How to Get Rid of Your Old Cans of Paint

Kevin Brown

Paint recycling and disposal depend on the type of paint. Water-based latex paint can usually go in the regular garbage if it’s dried out, but this varies by state. Oil-based paints, on the other hand, are hazardous materials and should be recycled or taken to a hazardous material drop-off location.

How to Get Rid of Your Old Cans of Paint

How to Recycle Paint:

Latex paints, commonly used for interior painting, can be recycled. Water-based, these paints can be reblended at recycling centers to create new paint. However, oil-based paints, commonly used for exterior and craft projects, cannot be recycled.

The paint recycling process goes as follows:

  • The recycling center sorts and classifies the paint by quality.
  • High-quality latex paint is then further sorted by color.
  • Next, the recycling center filters and reprocesses the paint, packaging it for resale.

Poor quality paint cannot be recycled. To ensure that your latex paint is suitable for recycling, make sure to secure the lid and prevent the paint from drying out.

Ten states have Paint Stewardship laws to reduce paint waste: Colorado, Connecticut, California, Washington D.C., Vermont, Minnesota, Maine, New York, Washington, and Rhode Island. Find paint recycling drop-off locations for these states here. If your state doesn’t have paint stewardship laws, you can still find a recycling center. Check your state’s EPA page or search Earth911.com for a recycling transfer station.

Stored airtight, most paints are donatable for up to ten years.

Start by offering leftover paint to friends, family, or nonprofit organizations. Many Habitat for Humanity ReStores accept latex paint donations. You can also list your paint on websites like FreeCycle or donate it to local theater groups.

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In some states, you can dispose of latex paint in your regular garbage. Check your state’s EPA website or contact your trash pick-up company for confirmation.

Before disposing of latex paint, let it dry out. If there’s only a small amount in the can, leave the lid off until it dries. Then, add it to your regular garbage.

For larger amounts, mix in a paint hardener, cat litter, or sawdust to solidify it. Once hardened, dispose of it with your trash.

If you live in a state that prohibits latex paint in landfills, bring it to a hazardous waste facility.

How to Dispose of Oil-Based Paint:

Oil-based paint is hazardous waste. It’s non-recyclable and can’t be put with regular garbage. Instead, find a hazardous waste facility or check your local government’s website for collection events where you can drop off old paint.

How to Dispose of Old Spray Paint Cans:

Depending on your location, you may be able to recycle empty spray paint cans. Visit your local recycling program’s website for details or consult your state’s EPA website for aerosol can recycling programs.

If the empty cans can’t be recycled, bring them to a hazardous waste facility.

Can Empty Paint Cans be Recycled?

Paint cans are typically made of tin-coated steel, a recyclable material. If the can is empty and has no paint residue, you can recycle it at a metal recycling center. In some cities, you may also be able to put empty paint cans (without the lid) in your recycling bin.

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