Plastic 55-gallon drums are commonly used to transport and store all kinds of liquids, from tomato sauce to industrial chemicals. Recycling and reusing these drums has become a widespread practice both to be environmentally friendly and to reduce costs. Food-grade drums in particular are prized for their multitude of uses.
Decide if the drum can be reused. Before a drum can be repurposed, you must find out what was stored in it previously. If the drum contained hazardous chemicals, it should not be reused for anything else. If the drum housed food or nonhazardous chemicals, such as water-soluble soap, then the drum can be thoroughly cleaned using the triple-rinse method and prepped for reuse.
Inspect the drum for damage. Check the barrel for leaks, small holes or dents. If the drum is damaged, it may not be able to hold liquids any longer. It could still be repurposed to store larger items such as rocks, compost, rags or other items.
Decide how you want to reuse the drum. A water-tight drum can be used as a rain barrel, while a barrel with small holes would make an excellent composter. A drum with more substantial damage could be cut down and used for container gardening.
If you don't want to reuse the drum, or if the drum is in poor condition for repurposing, check with your local environmental services agency or plastics recycling center. Many locations will accept clean, nonhazardous drums for recycling. If the barrel previously held hazardous material, contact your local hazardous waste agency for disposal instructions.
Clean, nonhazardous drums can also be given away or sold for reuse or recycling on sites such as Craigslist.
Do not reuse a drum that contained hazardous chemicals. Despite thorough cleaning, chemical residue could leech or react with other materials placed inside it. Contact your municipal hazardous waste agency for disposal instructions.