Consider the ubiquitous Coleman cannister – you know, the little one-pound propane tank that screws into a camp stove.

Great product, but horrific waste when empty. It is likely that far more energy is used in the mining of ore or steel production of a Coleman than the gas that fills it. And what a mess they make in campgrounds and national parks! They are expensive to handle and to dispose of. According to Maria Knutson, recycling coordinator for Republic Services in Benicia, empty tanks are hazardous material and, when improperly thrown in the trash, can cost up to  cost $10 per can to separate and send to proper disposal, a hidden cost which Benicia residents pay as it is built into the waste rates for Benicia. Worse, she noted, “We don’t want them in our garbage or recycling trucks because they are explosive!”

Twenty years ago, I approached the City and Republic Services, offering the hardware store as a drop off site for household fluorescent tubes and alkaline batteries. Since then, residents have deposited thousands of lamps and loads of batteries, perhaps a million by now! One day pondering the waste caused by Coleman empties, I thought:  Is there a way we could address this wasteful by-product as we had with batteries and lamps?

This started two summers ago while spending a few nights in Nevada City with my husband, Ian, where we encountered an usual product – a refillable one pound propane tank called Flame King. At $15, it was a stout, well-constructed tank, reusable and refillable. As well, in these Sierra foothills where camping is popular, there was a local propane supplier, Kamps Propane, who was offering to fill (and re-fill) these canisters. Filling was critical – it’s not enough to purchase a tank – you must have a source to refill it.

Back at home, I reported this discovery to Maria and also reached out to some of my Ace colleagues to discuss a re-filling program. Kamper Propane joined our meeting but described a re-fill process that was complicated, slow, and labor intensive. Although many of us were already filling your BBQ tanks at our stores, it simply wasn’t practical to fill the small one-pound tanks. However, the Kamper folks took note of our interest in developing an eco-friendly re-fill program.  And they went to work! Investing in a three-hundred-unit fill station, Kamper has solved the re-fill problem with a one-pound exchange program! Similar to Blue Rhino and Sodastream, consumers purchase an initial tank and then exchange it for a refill.

And so it is with great pleasure that Ace can introduce Little Kamper, the area’s first refillable one-pound propane tank! 

Each year, Benicia consumers purchase thousands of Colemans… for camping, balls games, parties, you name it.  All of these get tossed into the garbage when empty. If we can shift 10-20% to Little Kamper, we will contribute to tremendous reductions in steel production energy output, trash waste, and reduce your recycling fees.

Full disclosure: Kamper is not cheap – consumers pay $19.99 for the initial canister and $ 9.99 for refills. Kamper set this pricing, as it barely covers the handling costs of stocking-selling-exchanging and return-shipping the empties. However, the eco-friendly benefits in reduced energy waste and recycling far outweigh these costs.  Little Kamper is not only transformative, it can be a game-changer, radically redefining how we purchase and use small can propane.  If this works for the 1# Coleman, why not the 16.2 oz Bernzomatic tank used in soldering?!

In an era where sustainability is top-of-mind, Little Kamper has an important role to play.  Please consider Little Kamper for your next camping trip or sports event and make this program as popular as fluorescent tube and battery recycling at Ace! In a sustainable future, it is the only way to purchase the #1 propane responsibly.

For more information on Little Kamper, visit:  or CalRecycle: