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Because You Asked

What To Do With Leftover Paint?

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Half-used paints, primers and stains don’t have to sit in your basement or garage for years while you figure out what to do with them. Try these tips.


Today’s Because You Asked post was written by and is republished with permission from EarthTalk®, from the editors of E – The Environmental Magazine.


Dear EarthTalk: What is the best way to recycle my old and/or unwanted paint, primer and stains? –Kim B., Oswego, OR

Dear Kim: Has one of the many popular shows on HGTV inspired you to renovate your own home? If so, you’re not alone! Home renovations have been on the rise the last few years in the U.S. and Canada, which can mean lots of leftover paint. Extra paint can last for years when properly sealed and stored away from extreme heat and cold, and if unneeded, can be donated to organizations like Habitat for Humanity and Keep America Beautiful. But if paint can no longer be used, what are some safe, environmentally-responsible ways to dispose of it?

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that about 10 percent of the house paint purchased in the United States each year—about 65 to 69 million gallons—is discarded. Leftover and unusable paint wastes causes pollution when disposed of improperly, the EPA warns. Before you can decide how to dispose of old paint, you'll need to determine what kind of paint it is. There are two types of paint: oil-based and latex; and regulations on disposal of each type of paint vary by location.

In some areas, latex paint can be thrown out with the trash as long as it is completely dried. Keep in mind that some household waste haulers may not pick up latex paint even if it is completely dried, so always check with your local waste disposal service provider on rules and regulations applicable to your area.

Oil-based paints, as well as paint thinners and other paint solvents, are considered hazardous household waste (HHW) and are typically disposed of at HHW facilities. While many communities across the country will hold annual or semi-annual HHW collection days to make paint disposal easy for local residents, the new non-profit PaintCare is allowing residents of California, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Oregon, Minnesota and Vermont to have convenient disposal of house paint, primers, stains, sealers and clear coatings year-round. There is no charge for dropping off paint at a PaintCare drop-off site, and PaintCare’s site locator (available on their website and app) allows residents of applicable states to quickly find their closest drop-off location. PaintCare locations can be found at select Sherwin-Williams, True Value, Ace Hardware and other retailers.

“Retailer support of the PaintCare program is not only good business practice, but also an extension of good customer service,” says Scott Cassel, Chief Executive Officer of the Product Stewardship Institute, Inc., a nonprofit that in partnership with the paint industry, led the national dialogue that laid the foundation for the PaintCare program. “By providing paint drop-off locations, retailers not only encourage more foot traffic, but they also offer an important kind of community service that addresses both environmental protection and convenience.”

PaintCare manages the leftover paint it receives according to a policy of “highest, best use.” Their goal is to recycle as much as possible. Most of the oil-based paint is taken to a cement plant where it is blended into a fuel and burned to recover the energy value. Latex paint that is not rusty, molding or spoiled is sent to recycling companies and reprocessed into new paint. Some paint that the non-profit receives is nearly new and in excellent condition, and is given away at swap shops or to charitable organizations. PaintCare plans to expand its locations in the coming months.




How do you use up old paint? Share any green tips you have in the comments below!

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About the Author
EarthTalk, from the Editors of E - The Environmental Magazine
EarthTalk, from the Editors of E - The Environmental Magazine
EarthTalk is produced by Doug Moss and Roddy Scheer and is a registered trademark of Earth Action Network Inc.  more
  • Tanya T. 1 year ago
    Thank you! I've had this question for years!
  • Alyssa A. 1 year ago
    It's really important not to just dump leftover paint -- about 80 million gallons of paint go unused every year (, and paint waste can be really damaging to the environment. Instead of throwing away, save your paint in an airtight container and set it aside for some creative projects! Some ideas:

    -- Refinish some old furniture
    -- Repaint your walls
    -- Make a painted wood sculpture or DIY decor sign
    -- Paint garden planters or pots
    -- Save for another day
  • i k. 3 years ago
    I use it to refresh any old outdoor decoration; bird baths, mailbox post, shutters, trim, etc. It not avoids the paint from getting into the dump, but also serves to refresh tired eyesores.
  • Linda J T. 4 years ago
    mix them together to created your own color.
  • Michelle M. 4 years ago
    Paint cannot be "donated to Habitat for Humanity" - they no longer accept it since too much of it was no good. However, for those on the East Coast, a new company called Yuck Old Paint ( 1-888-509-YUCK) is available to pick up your paint, usable or not, from homes and businesses. They work with various markets to put the paint back to Reuse (better than Recycling!) in Community Beautification, Humanitarian Construction projects, and Theater productions! If the paint is not still good, they process it for appropriate legal disposal.
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