Monday, August 11

Goodbye, Old Paint

Safely disposing of your old paint.

Badger Soul: Goodbye, Old Paint
[base image Daniel R. Blume]
As a serial art dweeb I very rarely get rid of paint, but sometimes it's time to let it go.
The issue is, you can't just throw paint away. In the United States alone we trash over 128 Olympic-sized pools worth of paint a year. [Source: HowStuffWorks] That's ridiculous. And when paint cans sit and rust in landfills, the paint can leak out and leach into the ground. Which sucks on like, sixteen levels.
So how do you get rid of paint without losing your Tree Hugger club card? you know how touchy those guys get about eligibility

Is it oil-based or latex?

Oil-based paints (or 'alkyds') are used for more traditional art forms these days. The thing about oil paint is that it's highly toxic and does not store well... so you can't expect it to last you years. And if you have oil paint from before 1978, it might have lead in it. [Source: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency] It's considered Hazardous Household Waste (HHW) and you have to dispose of it correctly. Even if you have dried containers of oil paint, the U.S. EPA asks that you dispose of them as if they still had wet paint in them, because the chemicals can still be present in the container. Most cities and municipalities have HHW collection facilities or scheduled events where you can take your old oil paint. Google your city and "HHW collection" for options near you.
Latex paint is very common these days for interior and exterior painting, and isn't considered hazardous waste. Also, if it sits in proper storage for a while, it'll still be safe to use. However, you still shouldn't dispose of it like regular trash.

Can someone else use it?

Oil paints by cobalt123
[Flickr: cobalt123]
I have a confession. I don't usually purchase paint. Every once in a while there will be a certain paint that I do have to buy, but for the most part I complete my projects with paint from other peoples' discards. Many folks have a stack of paint cans sitting around (and maybe some spray paint) that they figured they maybe would do something with someday, but can't be bothered to actually dispose of it.
As long as it's latex-based and made after 1990 or a newer aerosol it should still be good. When I need paint, I'll usually send out a message on a few local boards that I'm willing to take paint off peoples' hands. I only pay for the gas I use to pick it up. Okay, so, I can't like, paint an entire room with what I get, but with a rental it's enough to have for accent walls at least. And I have a rainbow of colors!
Some community organizations will also take your free paint to use for projects. Check with the local Scouts troop leaders or school theater groups. In high school I did technical theater and a great deal of the paint we used to build sets with was donated. 
So before you resign yourself to lugging all that old but still good paint down to the disposal facility, consider putting up a notice that you're giving away paint. I'd be shocked if you didn't get at least a few bites. It'll save you a trip, and you can feel good about someone else getting use out of it.

Yeah, okay, but I can't give it away because [x]. Now what?

Now we get to actual disposal methods for post-1990 latex-based paint and spraypaint.

Does the manufacturer take post-consumer paint for recycling?

[City of Santa Monica]
Many states have enacted the PaintCare program, which takes old paint to recycle back into usable forms. [Source: American Coatings Association] If you live in a PaintCare state, check out and use their Drop-Off Location finder to see where the closest facility is to you.
If you live in or purchased architectural paint in one of the states with PaintCare, the fee for recycling is included in the purchase price of the paint. So, you've already paid to recycle the paint, and it won't cost you anything to take it to the drop-off. If you don't live in a PaintCare state, check with the manufacturer anyhow. Some retailers will take back recyclable paint on good faith. There are guidelines for what constitutes a recyclable product for PaintCare, so check them out before you take your paint. For instance, they do not take aerosols (spraypaint).

Dry your latex paint.

Grody, but ready to go in the garbage. [Joe Provey]
This is not safe for oil-based or aerosols. In a well-ventilated area, you can let the excess paint dry and then dispose of it at your regular recycling facility or in the garbage. ALWAYS leave the lid off-- pressure can still build up inside the cans even if the paint is dry. If you have less than half an inch of paint left in the can, just take off the top. If there's more, you can paint it on scrap in layers until it's all dry and then throw it out. You can also line a cardboard box with a trash bag, put in packing material or kitty litter, pour in the paint, wait for it to harden completely, and then throw the bag out like normal.

Recycle your aerosol cans.

I mean, you could do this.
Shapely's makes spray paint for horses

[Flickr: Steve Jurvetson]
Spraypaint is packaged in steel containers, which can be recycled. Don't puncture or crush the can. Aerosol paint can store well if you do it right, and I hardly ever get rid of it until it's empty. When it is (or doing that sputtery thing), empty it out on a piece of scrap until no more gas is left inside the can (use a spray booth!) Leave the plastic cap off, and recycle both pieces as you normally would. You don't need to remove the nozzle. [Source: American Coatings Association]
What have I missed? Let me know. What other methods for safely disposing of paint have you tried?

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