How to Recycle Paint

Consumer paint comes in primarily two forms: latex (or water-based) and alkyd (or oil-based). It’s important to know which type you have because the disposal options are different for each.

Paint Recycling Preparation

  1. The first step to paint recycling is proper storage. If you have an open can of paint, make sure to keep it covered so the paint doesn’t dry up. You can also wrap the lid in plastic to provide an additional seal. Store it in a cool, dry place between uses.
  2. If you have no more use for half-empty paint cans, see if you can donate them first. Many school drama clubs, community theaters and other nonprofits will accept used paint.
  3. If your paint came in an aerosol can (regardless of type), you’ll want to visit our aerosol cans recycling guide for disposal tips.
  4. If reuse is not an option, then it’s time to find a recycler. Here’s where the story differs based on the type of paint you have:
    • Oil-based paint can’t be recycled, which means you’ll need to use a household hazardous waste (HHW) program. If your community doesn’t offer HHW collection, you’ll want to dry out the paint using kitty litter and/or newspaper and throw it in the trash.
    • For water-based paint, recycling may be an option where you live by taking it to a transfer station. In many cities, latex paint is excluded from HHW collection and special collection events or programs are available.

Why Recycle Paint

  • Water-based paint is the most commonly accepted product at household hazardous waste events nationwide, even though the EPA doesn’t consider it to be hazardous waste. Most hazardous waste is incinerated instead of recycled.
  • New water-based paint can be made from recycled paint, or mixed together to create new colors used for projects like graffiti removal.
  • Using 1 gallon of recycled paint instead of new paint saves 100 kilowatt-hours of energy and keeps 115 pounds of carbon dioxide out of the air.

Find Recycling Guides for Other Materials

Frequent Paint Recycling Questions

Can I recycle paint cans in my curbside recycling program?

Many bigger cities will accept empty paint cans for recycling because they are made of steel, but you’ll have to remove the lid to ensure there’s no remaining paint. Some cities specifically exclude paint cans, so you’ll want to check locally.

Why is water-based paint recyclable, but not oil-based paint?

It’s not so much that oil-based paint is nonrecyclable; the issue is that it is classified by the EPA as hazardous waste. There are special regulations when it comes to disposal of hazardous waste, which makes the economics of recycling unfeasible. Because water-based paint is not considered hazardous, many states do not ban it from landfills if the paint is dried.

What about lead-based paint?

The federal government banned lead-based paint sales in 1978, so not only is it unlikely you have any in your house, but hopefully it’s not on your walls. The government also banned mercury as an ingredient in paints in 1990. If you do come across lead-based paint in your garage, dispose of it through your HHW program.

How long will paint last?

The shelf life of water-based paint is 10 years, and oil-based paint can last 15 years. All paint cans come with an expiration date so you know when you need to dispose of unused paint. The best way to optimize the shelf life is through proper paint storage.

What does ABOP stand for, and why is it relevant to recycling?

ABOP stands for antifreeze, batteries, oil and paint, four products that are hazardous in a landfill but fully recyclable. They also represent the most common forms of consumer household hazardous waste. Many communities will set up special collection events for these products, especially in California.

How is water-based paint recycled?

There are two ways to recycle paint: reblending and reprocessing. Reblending is simply combining several paints together to make a new color. Reprocessing involves separating the paint by color, filtering out any solids, mixing with new paint and adding any pigment to get a desired color. It is then sold as recycled-content paint.

Where do I buy recycled-content paint?

One of the most common places to purchase water-based paint made from recycled content is through a Habitat for Humanity ReStore. PaintCare also has a list of these vendors throughout the U.S. You may also want to ask your city’s HHW collection program if it offers a swap shop, where you can take home hazardous materials (such as paint) free of charge.

Are there any states that require paint recycling?

Most states have banned oil-based paints from landfills. An exception is Georgia, where all household hazardous waste is legally allowed in the garbage because there are limited HHW programs available. In eight states and the District of Columbia, paint recycling is funded by a product stewardship law run through PaintCare. When you buy a can of paint, you pay a fee that pays for water-based paint recycling and oil-based paint incineration.

If the paint is dry, can I throw it in the trash?

Yes, unless you live in California, where it is banned from landfills. If you’re looking to dry out paint, remove the lid and let it sit out for a few days. For more than a half-can of paint, use kitty litter or another absorbent material to soak it up. Oil-based paint will be pretty tough to dry out, so your best bet is to donate it or take it to an HHW collection.

Additional Reading