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How to Dispose of Old Paint Properly

written by: Rose Kivi•edited by: Sarah Malburg•updated: 2/16/2011

Paint contains pigments, solvents and additives that are harmful to the environment. Improper old paint disposal can pollute the soil and waterways, and harm wildlife. Use or donate leftover paint when possible. When that is not an option, dispose of it correctly to keep the environment safe.

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    When finishing a painting project, using up all of the paint is the most environmentally friendly option for "disposal". Try to purchase only as much paint as you need for your painting project. Even with the best calculations, however, it is not uncommon to have some leftover paint. Try to find ways to use your leftover paint or donate it to someone else. If neither option is possible, opt for earth friendly old paint disposal options. Some hazardous waste collection centers accept old paint for recycling. You can also properly dispose of some types of old paint at home. Learn ways to use up old paint, how to find places to donate paint, how to find hazardous waste collection centers and how to dispose of old paint at home.

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    Uses for Leftover Paint

    Save leftover paint for touch-ups. Store your paint properly so that it stays fresh and does not leak. The best way to store your leftover paint is to wrap plastic wrap tightly over the opening of the can, underneath the lid. Attach the lid securely on the can so that it does not leak. Store the can upside down on top of a wood surface, in a moderate temperature room, out of the reach of children and pets.

    If you do not anticipate a future need for touch-ups, use the paint for other projects. Look around your house; chances are there is something that could use a little freshening up. Paint a chair, dresser or even a fence. Do you wish the paint was a different color? There may just be a fix for that. Lighter colors of paints can be taken to paint supply stores and mixed with pigments to create other colors.

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    Donating Leftover Paint

    You may not have a use for your leftover paint, but someone else just might. Ask your friends, local schools, churches in your area, and other local organizations, if they would like your leftover paint. You could also put an advertisement in your local newspaper offering the paint for free. Many newspapers do not charge to advertise items given away for free.

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    Hazardous Waste Collection Programs

    Some communities have hazardous waste collection programs that take old paint and dispose of it properly. Call your local trash collection company or city office and inquire about hazardous waste collection programs in your community that accept paint. Ask what is done with the paint after it is collected. Some areas have laws that regulate how paint is disposed of, while other communities allow the paint to be disposed of at the local landfill without considering environmental safety. Only drop off paint with organizations that properly dispose of or recycle old paint. If your local trash company or city office is unable to refer you to a hazardous waste collection program, search the Earth911 website or the Environmental Protection Agency website in your state, for organizations that collect old paint and recycle or dispose of it safely.

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    Old Paint Disposal at Home

    There are methods you can use to dispose of latex paint safely yourself, however, oil-based paint requires special processing and must be taken to a hazardous waste organization. Latex paint can be air-dried and safely discarded. Dry and hardened latex paint does not leak out into the soil or waterways. To air-dry and dispose of your old latex paint, use one of the following methods:

    If you only have a little bit of paint left -- 1/2-inch or less -- you can simply leave the lid off the can and let the paint dry-out in the can. Once the paint is dry, you can safely throw the can, with the dry paint inside, away in your trash or recycle bin. If you have more than 1/2-inch of paint left in the can, distribute some of the paint into other recyclable cans or containers, let the paint air-dry in the uncovered containers, and discard in your reycle bin. Another option, is to brush the old paint onto pieces of cardboard. Once the paint dries, throw the painted cardboard in the trash or recycle bin.

    If you have large amounts of latex paint to dispose of, mix paint hardener -- available for purchase at paint supply stores -- or cat liter in with the paint. Pour the paint hardener or cat liter into the can of paint or into another container filled with paint. Let the paint, mixed with the hardener or litter, air-dry in the uncovered can or container, until the paint is completely hard. Discard the can or container of hardened paint in your trash bin.

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    American Coatings Association; Post-Consumer Paint Management;

    Environmental Protection Agency Ohio; Storing and Disposing of Paint from Your Home;