Old paint cans have a tendency to multiply if left alone. Kids outgrow the pastel pinks and blues of the nursery. Teens express their feelings with black or red or shocking pink. Empty-nest parents reclaim their rooms with several layers of soothing ecru. What should be done with the leftover paint?
The American Coatings Association, which includes members of the paint industry, has several tips for do-it-yourself painters:
- Buy only the amount necessary for the job. Paint retailers can help calculate the amount of paint that will be needed. One gallon of paint should cover between 250 and 350 square feet.
- Store leftover paint by covering the opening with a thin film of plastic and then replacing the lid tightly. Keep paint in a storage area at a moderate temperature (avoid freezing) and away from children.
- Label the container with the date and the room where the paint was used so that it can be located as needed for touch-up jobs.
- Consolidate the excess paint for use as a primer / base coat.
- Ask whether a neighbor or community organization could use the leftover paint.
Paint that can’t be reused or recycled by the homeowner should be disposed of properly. The first step is to determine whether the paint is water-based or oil-based since the type of paint determines the proper method of disposal.
Most paint purchased by consumers in the United States is water-based. Latex paints are water-based. Many people prefer latex paint over oil-based paint because it is easier to use and to clean up. Latex paint is composed of fewer environmentally-harmful chemicals than oil-based paint, but does contain vinyls, epoxies, and acrylics which can pose a problem if poured down the drain. When the information on the label that identifies the paint as water-based or oil-based is missing, the paint can be tested by trying to mix it with water. If the paint dissolves in the water, it is latex / water-based. Oil-based paint, however, will separate from the water.
Water-based / latex paint can generally be disposed of with other household wastes as long as the paint is dry. If there is a fourth of a can or less of wet paint remaining, simply leave the can open for a few days in a well-ventilated area. For larger volumes of paint, stir in equal amounts of kitty litter, mulch, or shredded paper to absorb the paint and hasten drying. (See Youtube video illustrating how to dispose of latex paint.)
Oil-based paints need to be disposed of with hazardous household wastes. The solvents in oil-based paint are flammable, and the resins, solvents, pigments, and additives can be toxic when breathed or touched.
The Vanderburgh County Solid Waste District hosts Tox Away Days each year when Vanderburgh County residents may take oil-based paint, stains, varnishes, and other hazardous wastes to designated collection centers for disposal. There is no fee, and volunteers are available to help unload the items. Latex-based paint should not be taken to Tox Away Day collections because the county will be charged for disposing of the paint as if it were a hazardous waste---a much costlier procedure than required for ordinary household waste. For more information about the Vanderburgh County Solid Waste District’s hazardous waste collection schedule and other drop-off recycle days, see the district’s website or call (812) 436-7800.
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