Safe Disposal for Paint Waste

Brian Barth
old paint cans

Over the years, many people end up with shelves and shelves of unused chemical products in their garage, garden shed or basement. If you're scratching your head over what to do with a bunch of cans of old paint, follow this quick guide to making a game plan for safely and responsibly disposing of them.

Paint Care Programs

Paints are hazardous substances that should never be poured down the drain or onto the ground. A number of states have passed legislation requiring the paint industry to provide drop-off locations for recycling old paint, whether it is latex or oil-based. PaintCare Inc. is a free service that makes it very easy to recycle paint.

More states are enacting this type of legislation all the time, but as of 2014 the following states provide this service:

  • California
  • Colorado
  • Connecticut
  • Maine
  • Minnesota
  • Oregon
  • Rhode Island
  • Vermont

Latex Paint

Whether you live in a state with a paint care program or not, latex paint is considered safe for disposal with your normal curbside pick-up.

  • Empty paint cans can be recycled with the other metals.
  • If there is a just a bit of paint left, remove the lid and allow it to evaporate somewhere that is out of the reach of kids and pets before recycling.
  • If there is more than a half-inch or so left, but the can is less than one-third full, stir kitty litter, wood shavings or shredded paper into the can to soak up the paint and allow it to dry before putting the whole thing in the trash.
  • If the can is more than one-third full, it's easier to pour it into a larger container first and then mix in the material to soak it up.

Oil-Based Paint

oil based paint disposal

Oil-based paint is much more toxic and cannot be thrown in the trash. Also, it's unsafe to dry out oil-based paints in the air, as they can spontaneously combust. However, all municipalities provide some sort of hazardous waste disposal service that will accept oil-based paints.

These are generally located at the local landfill, though they are not typically open every day, so check with your local municipality to find out the options for bringing in your old paint. The service Earth 911 provides a database that will tell you exactly who to call in your area to find out about recycling oil-based paint.

Try to Avoid Waste Paint

Since they are toxic substances, taking steps to avoid having leftover paint is an important way to care for the environment. Measuring carefully and buying just enough of the product you need is a good start. And if you end up with a few cans that have only a bit left, combine them and consider using it as part of a base coat for your next painting project - just keep in mind that latex and oil paints don't mix.

Safe Disposal for Paint Waste