It’s happened to the best of us: there’s a home project you’ve been dying to complete, you’ve finally found the time for it, and you head off to your local hardware store and buy far too much paint. “One bucket can’t be enough for one room, right?”
You love DIY projects. So do we. Let’s make cool $#*% together.
Needless to say, you probably don’t need that extra half-bucket of cerulean blue paint you used in your backyard pool area for … pretty much anything else. So, what can you do with it?
Here, we present to you our favorite ways to reuse, recycle, or dispose of leftover paint. To make sure we’re giving you the best expert advice, we spoke with Jennifer Berry, public and strategic relations manager for Earth911, which maintains a database of recycling options for virtually every type of household product in every community in the U.S.
💡 Pro tip: You can use Earth911’s service by clicking the “Where to Recycle” button at the top of this webpage and entering your zip code.
✅ How to Dispose of Paint Method #1: See if your state has a paint take-back program.
Ten states, plus Washington D.C., have passed legislation to enact paint take-back programs, each in cooperation with the paint industry after consultation with the Product Stewardship Institute, a nonprofit focused on environmental justice. Oregon passed the first paint take-back legislation of its kind in 2009, and enacted a pilot program in July 2010.
These programs require the paint industry to set up take-back locations, listed at PaintCare.org, a nonprofit that represents paint manufacturers and producers. PaintCare “plan[s] and operate[s] paint stewardship programs in U.S. states and jurisdictions that pass paint stewardship laws.” And the numbers don’t lie—this process has an impact. To date, PaintCare has collected 48.7 million gallons of paint.
Today, the regions with active paint take-back programs include:
- New York
- Rhode Island
- Washington, D.C.
Unfortunately, consumers bear the brunt of the cost of these programs, because paint is now marginally more costly. And if you live in another state not on this list, properly disposing of unused paint presents the same challenge it always has.
✅ How to Dispose of Paint Method #2: Buy the right amount of paint.
It sounds simple, but if you buy the right amount of paint, you won’t have any unused paint to deal with after the paint job is done! Berry calls it “pre-cycling.” Measure your walls, and multiply length x height to estimate the square footage (don’t forget to subtract for doors and windows). The rule of thumb is that one gallon of paint will cover about 350 square feet with a single coat.
✅ How to Dispose of Paint Method #3: Store unused paint.
PaintCare recommends covering the paint can’s mouth with plastic wrap, tightly securing the lid, then turning the leak-proof can upside down for storage. Store paint in a place that is out of reach for children and pets, and that won’t get too hot, and won’t freeze. Remember to label your paints so you know which room each can corresponds to.
✅ How to Dispose of Paint Method #4: Mix and reuse latex paints.
Latex paints can be blended and used, though don’t expect an aesthetically pleasing hue. Still, for base coats and functional paint jobs, this is an economical and environmentally friendly way to reuse old paint. Berry also recommends checking with local waste haulers, municipalities and schools; many have programs to collect paints, blend them and use them on community projects. “We shouldn’t look at how to recycle first, but who can use this next,” she said.
✅ How to Dispose of Paint Method #5: Recycle empty paint cans.
If you’ve emptied a can of paint, let the residue air-dry, then recycle the can with other metals. Check with your waste hauler, first, but many community recycling programs accept paint cans this way, Berry said.
✅ How to Dispose of Paint Method #6: Dispose of oil paints as hazardous waste.
For oil-based paints, the best option for disposal is a local Household Hazardous Waste facility. Some communities offer year-round access to these waste-handling services, but others offer drop-off days only once or twice a year. Check with your municipality or waste hauler for details, or plug in your zip code at Earth911.com’s recycling center locator or call 1-800-CLEANUP (1-800-253-2687). PaintCare cautions that “air-drying of liquid alkyd or oil based paint is not considered safe.”
✅ How to Dispose of Paint Method #7: Toss latex paint in the trash, but recycle the cans.
Unlike oil paints, latex paints aren’t considered hazardous waste. If you have leftover latex paints that can’t be recycled, reused or stored, pour the paints into a box with shredded paper or kitty litter, allow it to solidify away from kids or pets, then discard in the trash. Recycle empty paint cans with other metals.
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If dried paint fills a can to a depth of about a half inch or less, dry it in the can and recycle the paint can. If you have a more-or-less full can of dried latex paint, unfortunately, the next step is to remove the lid and toss the whole can in with the trash.
“If you have the opportunity to recycle the paint and recycle the can,” Berry said, “that’s the best option.” We agree.
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