Sally’s Recycling Corner: Recycling Mysteries: Paint

Most people already know that household paint is recyclable. But it’s also important to understand that different household paints are disposed of in very different ways.

What we do with our leftover paint determines if it goes on to have a second life. In fact, the EPA estimates that Americans discard as much as 69 million gallons of paint each year. That’s millions of gallons of unrecycled paint headed straight for the nation’s landfills. Fortunately, many cities and communities organize household hazardous waste management programs through which residents can recycle leftover paint and paint cans. Americans discard as much as 69 million gallons of paint each year.

So What Should I Do With My Paint?

When purchasing paint for a project, try to determine how much paint you will need so that you end up with as little excess paint as possible. Then, make every effort to use leftover paint. Give it to a friend or use it for an art or crafts project. Consider donating the paint to local organizations, such as charities, churches, high school drama departments or Girl Scouts of America or Boy Scouts of America troops.

To recycle your paint, separate it into two groups: latex paint and oil-based paint. Never mix the two kinds together because they have to be recycled separately. Also, if possible, the paints should be in their original containers, or at least clearly labeled for identification.

For latex paint, remove the lid from the can and allow the paint to dry out and harden completely. Push a screw driver into the paint to test whether any of it is still liquid. Once the paint has dried completely, it is ready to be recycled.

In some states, leftover paint that is prepared this way and placed in garbage bins is automatically recycled. In other states, it’s necessary for you to take the paint and containers to a recycling facility. Contact your local household hazardous waste (HHW) representative to learn the regulations in your state.

Oil-based paints are hazardous and should always be taken to your local HHW collection center so they can be disposed of safely. And even though the majority of latex paints are not considered to be hazardous, there are a few exceptions.Some paints have chemicals with mildew protection, and those are hazardous because they include pesticides.

Paints labeled as “wood preservative” and paints containing mercury (may apply to any paint manufactured before 1991) are also hazardous. Take latex paints that fall into this category to your local HHW collection center along with your oil-based paints.

Some communities have specific paint recycling programs that will accept both latex and oil-based paints at collection sites. To find your local paint recycling program, use Earth911’s recycling search or check with your city’s public works department.

Published in the August/September 2009 Newsletter