What do you do with leftover paint? It's a question that plagues many of us, if the stacks of leftover paint cans filling basements are any indication.
Three states have passed legislation to enact paint take-back programs, each in cooperation with the paint industry after consultation with the Product Stewardship Institute.
Oregon passed the first paint take-back legislation of its kind in 2009, and enacted a pilot program in July 2010. The program requires the paint industry to set up take-back locations, listed at PaintCare.org; the cost is ultimately borne by the consumers who pay a marginally higher price for paint. California passed its law in 2010, and is to set up a program by 2012. Connecticut passed its law this week (June 6, 2011) and is to set up a program by 2013.
For those living in other states, properly disposing of unused paint presents the same challenge it always has. To find out how we should dispose of unused paints, we checked with Paint Care, and interviewed Jennifer Berry, public and strategic relations manager for Earth911, which maintains a database of recycling options for virtually every type of household product and every community in the U.S. (You can use Earth911's service by plugging in your zip code in the "Get Local Info" widget on The Daily Green's homepage.) Here's what we learned:
1. Buy the right amount of paint.
It sounds simple, but if you buy the right amount of paint, you won't have any unused paint to deal with after the paint job is done! Berry calls it "precycling." Measure your walls, and multiply length x height to estimate the square footage (don't forget to subtract for doors and windows). A gallon of paint will cover about 350 square feet with a single coat of paint, according to dummies.com.
2. Store unused paint.
Paint Care recommends covering the paint can's mouth with plastic wrap, tightly securing the lid, then turning the leak-proof can upside down for storage. Store paint in a place that is out of reach for children and pets, and that won't get too hot, and won't freeze. Remember to label your paints so you know which room each can corresponds to.
3. Mix and reuse latex paints.
Latex paints can be blended and used, though don't expect an aesthetically pleasing hue! Still, for base coats and functional paint jobs, this is an economical and environmentally friendly way to reuse old paint. Berry also recommends checking with local waste haulers, municipalities and schools; many have programs to collect paints, blend them and use them on community projects. "We shouldn't look at how to recycle first, but who can use this next," she said.
4. Recycle empty paint cans.
If you've emptied a can of paint, let the residue air dry, then recycle the can with other metals. Check with your waste hauler, first, but many community recycling programs accept paint cans this way, Berry said.
5. Dispose of oil paints as hazardous waste.
For oil-based paints, the best option for disposal is a local Household Hazardous Waste facility. Some communities offer year-round access to these waste-handling services, but others offer drop-off days only once or twice a year. Check with your municipality or waste hauler for details, or plug in your zip code at Earth911.com's recycling center locator or call 1-800-CLEANUP (1-800-253-2687). Paint Care cautions that "air-drying of liquid alkyd or oil based paint is not considered safe."
6. Toss latex paint in the trash, but recycle the cans.
Unlike oil paints, latex paints aren't considered hazardous waste. If you have leftover latex paints that can't be recycled, reused or stored, pour the paints into a box with shredded paper or kitty litter, allow it to solidify away from kids or pets, then discard in the trash. Recycle empty paint cans with other metals. If dried paint fills a can to a depth of about a half inch or less, dry it in the can and recycle the paint can. If you have a more-or-less full can of dried latex paint, unfortunately, the next step is to remove the lid and toss the whole can in with the trash.
"If you have the opportunity to recycle the paint and recycle the can," Berry said, "that's the best option." We agree.
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