How to Recycle or Dispose Paint
An Overview on Recycling and Disposing Used Paint
You’ve just completed the long-awaited renovation of your kitchen. The final brush stroke has landed and you stand back to admire your work. But then you look down at the half-full paint can and wonder what you’re gonna do with it!
You’re not alone. In the US, there are more than 64 million gallons of leftover paint that go un-used every year - that’s 10% of the amount purchased. So it should be no surprise that paint is the material most collected at household hazardous waste round-ups in the US (by volume). Not only is leftover paint an enormous waste problem, it can also be quite hazardous to the environment and human health because it has toxic ingredients and harmful attributes:
- Contain heavy metals, like lead
Though latex paint suffers from far fewer of these problems compared to oil-based paints, it should still be properly reused or recycled as it represents usable materials that should not just be thrown away. Not sure whether a paint is latex or solvent-based? Paints that are solvent-based will have “oil-based” or “alkyd” on the labels and can be identified by cleaning method as they require paint thinners or turpentine to be removed from brushes and containers. You can tell if you’ve got latex paint by putting a few drops in water - if it mixes, it’s latex. If not, it’s oil-based.
Proper paint handling
Since recycling leftover paint is a costly affair (the US government spends $500 million annually), part of handling your leftover paint properly is to prevent leftovers before they’re generated, and then be sure to store it properly until you need it. Follow these steps to handle your paint:
- Leave no leftovers: One of the simplest ways to “recycle” used paint is to simply prevent it in the first place! The National Pain and Coatings Association recommends the following ways to prevent leftovers:
- Measure twice, buy once: By measuring the space to be painted accurately and calculating how much you’ll need, you be left with less in the end. Use this paint calculator to help you determine the correct amount of paint.
- Use it up: If you’ve got just a small amount of paint in the can, rather than storing it (you may never use it up, after all!), add another layer to your walls to just use it up. Problem solved!
- Proper paint storage: When you’ve got a good quantity of leftover paint, be sure to store it properly for use later. Cover the lid with plastic wrap and seal securely, then turn the can upside down and store in a room with moderate temperatures - not freezing or boiling.
Where to dispose of paint
If you’re finished with your home reno project and in need of a place to recycle your paint, you’ll need methods for properly disposing of it. These steps should give you a good idea of how to dispose of paint with the planet in mind:
- Donate paint: In many cases, nonprofits and charitable organizations will take used paint for use in their facilities. Check with your local theatre group, church, or animal shelter to find out of they’d like such a donation. Our recycling database also has resources on where to find donation sites for used paint.
- Give it away: If you’ve got similar tastes in color to your neighbor or a family member, why not give your used paint to them? Small amounts can be used for little projects like painting furniture or the dog house. Larger amounts may be enough to finish an entire room! You may also want to try an online site for giving away your used paint - see our resources section for some ideas.
- Swap or exchange: Some communities have set up paint exchanges or swaps where consumers can get together to donate used paint and take some for their use if desired. Do a search in your local area online for a paint swap or exchange program, or check out our recycling resources for national listing options.
- Recycle leftover paint: Several companies and municipalities now collect paint to be remixed, re-tinted, and resold for use elsewhere. Check online for local paint recyclers or look into our paint recyclers database for ideas on where you can drop off your leftovers for reuse.
- Use HHW disposal programs: If none of the above reuse and recycling methods are available to you, your municipal solid waste office may have household hazardous waste programs to collect things like used paint. Some have permanent site collection programs, like fire stations and landfill sites, where you can deliver your used paint. Others will hold “event” collection days for household hazardous waste once or several times throughout the year. Give your neighborhood waste collection office a call to find out what procedures you should follow.
- DIY latex paint disposal: As a last resort in the rare instance where there are no recycling or donation options for your leftover paint, you may need to safely dispose of it yourself. This can be done by drying it out yourself - a task that is easily done with 1/2 inch of latex paint in the bottom of a can. Just leave the lid off until it air dries (away from children and pets) and then discard it by recycling the can with other metals or plastics, depending on the container type (with the lid off). Pour larger quantities into a box with kitty litter or shredded paper and then recycle the can. This air-drying method should not be used with leftover oil based paints, though if the paint is already solidified, the can should be recycled as recommended above.
Recycling aerosol paint containers and paint cans
Made with high-grade steel, aerosol containers are valuable in the world of recycling. Thankfully, recycling them is simple:
- Empty the cans: If there is a small amount remaining, simply spray it onto some absorbent material (kitty litter or newsprint) and let dry. Again, this should be done away from children and pets.
- Remove plastics: Then remove any plastic components like the cap and the nozzle.
- Recycle: Place the can with regular metal recycling. Do not puncture or crush the container.
Recycling paint cans is also uncomplicated:
- Dry the can: When all of the paint from a can has been used up, leave the lid off of the can so that it dries completely. Even if there is a small layer of paint in the can, it should be accepted for recycling and will not hinder the recycling process.
- Recycle: Then recycle both the can and the lid with regular plastics and metals, depending on their composition.
Paint disposal hazards
There are certain things you should never do with your leftover paint, especially solvent-based varieties since they are ignitable. These paint disposal don’ts will protect you and your family, your pets, and the environment:
- Don’t pour down the drain
- Don’t pour into storm sewers through street drains
- Don’t pour onto the ground
- Don’t pour into septic tanks
1 Paint Home. (n.d.). Retrieved July 1, 2010, from Product Stewardship Institute: http://www.productstewardship.us/displaycommon.cfm?an=1&subarticlenbr=116
2 What Do We Do With The Leftover Paint? New EPA Study Shows Millions of Gallons Available for Safe Disposal, Reuse or Recycling . (2007, April 25). Retrieved July 1, 2010, from US Environmental Protection Agency: http://yosemite.epa.gov/opa/admpress.nsf/a883dc3da7094f97852572a00065d7d8/5da00bb050bc2fe3852572c800627179!OpenDocument
3 Protocol for Management of Post-Consumer Paint. (2008). Retrieved July 1, 2010, from National Paint & Coatings Association: http://www.paint.org/pubs/protocol.pdf
4 Paint Home. (n.d.). Retrieved July 1, 2010, from Product Stewardship Institute: http://www.productstewardship.us/displaycommon.cfm?an=1&subarticlenbr=116