What Can I do with Leftover Paint?

Almost a month ago now, my husband and I purchased a home and immediately launched into a fairly comprehensive renovation of it. The home was built in 1934 and while it has some amazing original features and is built extremely well, let’s just say that homeowner tastes and electrical codes have changed a bit in the intervening 79 years. We’re trying to do whatever we can to keep sustainability in mind during the renovation. It was easy to select energy efficient appliances, low VOC finishes and the like. However, one of the biggest challenges we’ve had is dealing with demolition and construction waste as responsibly as possible. We do have a dumpster on site- that was unavoidable, but we have been keeping as much out of it as possible. For example, we were able to donate all of the kitchen cabinets and countertops to the local Habitat for Humanity ReStore, which was terrific. I was also able to get rid of some things by advertising them as “free” on Craigslist. Honestly- I had no idea that 12 people would contact me within 20 minutes wanting an old concrete yard bench I had posted. It was crazy- definitely consider it if you have something to dispose of that you even think might have value to someone.

One of the things that I had no idea what to do with was the several dozen cans of partially used paint the previous owner had left in the basement. None of the cans are labelled as to what room they were used in. Many appear to be at least a a couple decades old, and the previous owner’s taste in paint colors isn’t exactly consistent with mine. So what can I do with all of these cans of paint? Some of the newer looking ones I set aside to use as primer on future projects. I called a couple community groups to see if any would accept donated paint, but so far I have only found groups that will accept unopened cans of paint which doesn’t help me. So, I still had questions. Can paint cans be recycle? Can leftover paint be disposed of in the garbage? Or is it considered hazardous waste?

In order to find answers, I turned to www.Paint.org which is the website for the American Coatings Association. They have several very helpful informational handouts. The first thing that I learned from the site is that oil based (or “Alkyd”) paints are considered hazardous waste and need to be disposed of through local household hazardous waste programs. Fortunately only two of the cans in my basement are oil based, so I’ll just wait until my next community household hazardous waste drive for those. Latex based paints, though, are not considered hazardous waste. Some states (currently California, Oregon, and Rhode Island) have passed state laws that establish local programs to collect and reuse leftover paint. You can read more about the programs available in the states at www.PaintCare.org. Since, I do not live in one of those states, though, I needed to look further for what to do with my leftover latex paint. According to www.Paint.org, latex paint must be dried into a solid before it can be disposed of in the trash. Here are the proper steps for the disposal of latex paint directly from the www.Paint.org website:

  1. Unused latex paint should be poured into an absorbent material such as a cat box filler, shredded newspaper or sawdust.
  2. Let it dry completely and dispose of the dried material in your regular trash.
  3. In areas where recycling programs exist, save the dry, empty containers with the lids off for a steel or plastic can recycling program. Small amounts of dried residue will not hinder can recycling.

So, I guess this weekend I have no excuses not to sort through all my cans of paint, recycle what I can and dry out the rest for disposal. This is also a good reminder to try not to purchase more paint than I need for my own projects so that I don’t continue to contribute to the paint can collection!





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