How to Reuse, Recycle and Dispose of Paint Products Safely

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So you have just finished painting your home, and you couldn’t be more pleased with how it all turned out. However, you still have leftover trays of paint, paint thinners and other mixtures that you can’t put back in their original containers. Disposing of leftover painting materials can be a bit of a challenge, due to the toxic nature of the chemicals in paints.

We’ve listed a few options for how you can safely dispose of your remaining paints and solvents, while creating the least impact on the environment.

Store your unused paints for future use

If you have enough paint left in the can to warrant future use, cover the top of the can with plastic wrap and tightly tap the lid back on with a rubber mallet, creating a seal. Make sure that you store the paint can in a cool dark place, like on a shelf in a basement. We recommend labeling each can with the date of purchase and the area that you painted with it. Remember, latex and water-based paints usually last around 10 years, while solvent and oil-based paints last around 15 years.

It can be a good idea to keep your leftover household paints around for a while, so you can double back for retouches or matching paint hues. If you have a lot of leftover paints, this can be a great excuse to finally spruce up an old piece of furniture or a closet door.

Look for local paint reusing and disposal programs

The first goal in getting rid of leftover paints should be to find someone else to use them! This saves others the trouble of going out and buying a new can of paint, you don’t have to hunt down your local disposal program, and best of all, you can cut down on your community’s environmental impact. Ask around in your community to see if anyone could use the spare paint. Often, high school art programs or local theatre groups can use household paints for designing stage sets or other creative purposes.

If you can’t find anyone to reuse your paints, ask your local sanitation office to see if they offer a household hazardous waste facility where you can drop off your paints or empty paint cans. Check to see how your local facility prefers you to prepare the leftover materials for recycling, as this can differ from each facility.

Prepare for disposing of paints safely at home

If you can’t find any of the above options to dispose of your painting materials, you can dispose of them yourself with the following steps. This should be your last option for paint disposal.

For small amounts of all paints, ‘use’ the leftover paint by brushing it onto cardboard or newspapers, then throw this away. Latex paints aren’t considered hazardous wastes, so you can pour latex paint into a box with shredded paper or kitty litter, let it solidify, and then throw the mixture in the regular trash. Let the emptied can air-dry with the lid off (in a well-ventilated area), and recycle the can.

Oil-based paints, on the other hand, contain hazardous materials in them. You’ll want to pour absorbent materials (kitty litter or sawdust work best) directly into the paint can and stir this mixture to let the paint dry. Take the can to your nearest hazardous waste facility, which you can locate by going to Earth911 and inputting your zip code. Never throw oil-based paints into the regular trash, down the drain, or into the ground.

Disposing of paint thinners

You should likewise never pour paint thinners down the drain or into the earth. Paint thinners and turpentine can damage your home’s piping, and pouring thinners into the soil is extremely toxic to the environment and contaminates the soil. Instead, make every effort to reuse excess paint thinners.

You can pour it into a clean glass or plastic jar with a tight-fitting lid and label it clearly. See if anyone else could use paint thinner; it’s always best if someone else can take your leftover paint thinners rather than buy their own.

Even if you have already mixed thinners with paints, you can separate it out for future use! Pour the paint and thinner mixture into a clear glass container and seal this with a lid. Wait for the paint particles to settle at the bottom, and then simply pour the clear liquid (your thinner) into another container for future use. Dispose of the paint residue after it dries.

Although it might just seem easiest to dispose of your paints in the trash, look around first and see what other recycling or reusing options you have before you throwing it away. Before disposing of your paint, you should check with your local waste authority to confirm that these recommendations follow their specific rules and laws.