Dear Dot: How Do I Dispose of Leftover Paint?

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Dear Dot,

Thanks for telling me about what to look for in eco-friendly paint, but how can I responsibly dispose of any leftover paint when I’m done? 

—Frances

The Short Answer: The best use for leftover paint is to use it up. If that’s not an option, you have plenty of ways to recycle, from dropping it at a PaintCare partner in your area or donating to Habitat for Humanity to be turned into its Recolor brand

Dear Frances,

Alas, paint math is imperfect. No matter how carefully we calculate the amount of paint we’ll need for a project, there are often more than a few drops left in the can when we’re finished. And while it can be handy to hang onto a little bit of extra paint for touch ups (store leftover paint in its carefully sealed can and in a dark, dry place between 60°F and 80°F — no need to turn it upside down), there are times when paint is long past its “best before” date, and disposal is prudent.

Before I tell you how to dispose of any paint, eco-friendly or otherwise, let’s first make clear how not to dispose of paint: Do not pour it down a drain or dump it in a stream. Yes, I’ve heard stories.

Oil paint is considered hazardous waste by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and therefore should be disposed of only via a household hazardous waste (HHW) disposal facility. 

Some municipal curbside recycling programs will accept empty cans of paint. If it’s virtually empty, ensure that any dregs in the bottom are completely hardened. You can then either peel off the paint and recycle the can, or toss out the can and hardened paint with your garbage (unless you live in California, where any paint is banned from landfills). To harden paint, leave the lid off the can, and put it outside somewhere dry. Or purchase a paint hardener — available at home and hardware stores — which will speed up the process. Or add your clumping kitty litter to leftover paint, which will also turn the liquid into a solid. 

Some HHW depots offer a “swap shop” where you can drop off (or pick up) leftover paint, usually for free. Check your city’s HHW facility to determine if that option is available for you.

In other words, how you dispose of leftover paint is as varied as a color palette. So please call your local waste management facility so they can paint … er,  point you in the right direction.

The EPA suggests you check out Earth911’s guide to where to recycle paint

Incidentally, Frances, you might be interested in knowing that some organizations use repurposed paint to cover up graffiti. While Dot is a lover of street art — even uncommissioned street art — she does recognize that some graffiti is downright offensive and unwelcome. 

Which leads us to an important point: The best way to “dispose” of leftover paint is to use it up (or allow someone else to). Put one more coat on the walls! Paint your garage, a shed, a playhouse. Jackson Pollock your bicycle. Renoir your boudoir. Liechtenstein a Steinway. Van Gogh wild!

If there are still leftovers, let’s look at how you can recycle paint, from those acrylics you acquired in hopes of channeling Andy Warhol for your own 15 minutes, to the spray paint you purchased to revive your rusted lawn chairs. 

PaintCare is at your (pun intended) disposal in more than 2,300 locations across North America. If there isn’t a PaintCare partner in your city or town, look for Habitat for Humanity, which, at several of its locations, accepts latex, watercolor, and acrylic paints in their original containers and turns them into its Recolor paint varieties, which are then sold to raise money to build Habitat homes.

Consider reaching out to local nonprofits — churches, schools, theater groups — to see if they might make use of your leftover paint. 

And, as best you can, when it comes time to purchase paint for your next project, talk to the experts so that you’re not purchasing more than you need. 

Abstract expressionistically,

Dot

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