How to recycle paint (or not)

Filed in Blog by on June 23, 2009 16 Comments
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Old paint - how do you recycle yours?

Old paint - how do you recycle yours?

I promised some more details on paint recycling in my post this morning about our visit to the local recycling centre.

In my mind I could see a specially designated area for paint recycling. I knew I had seen it before, near to the household chemical area.

Now either I was exceptionally tired or someone had stolen the paint recycling area yesterday!

I couldn’t find it anywhere.

Thankfully, a friendly member of staff could see me having a ‘ blank stare’ moment and came over to help. When I asked him where to put the paint tins he said ‘They go into non-recyclable; into the landfill.’


I questioned him on this. ‘But you used to have paint recycling!’ I exclaimed.

He went on to tell me that they have since done away with a separate area for paint. He said that because most modern paint is such low toxicity, there is no need to dispose of it separately.

When it was recycled separately; in the days of lead paint et al, I was informed that all they did was dump it into steel containers underneath the ground.

Gasp again.

Now paint is considered such a low hazzard that it is ‘safe’ to put it into landfill where it causes little damage to the environment.

I was a bit shocked, I don’t mind admitting.

Fortunately, as you’ll have read, someone at the recycling centre saved me from my conscience. He was jazzing up a local nursery with a bright mural for the children to enjoy, so he happily relieved me of our bright coloured paints.

I also wrote about a great scheme in the UK called Community RePaint the other week. I duly typed in my postcode for donating my old paint and found the nearest collection point to me was over 40 miles away. Sadly, this wasn’t an option for us, so into the landfill our 3 remaining half tubs of paint went. I had already tried them on Freecycle, to no avail.

At least some of the paint was put to good reuse before the rest of it was landfilled.

What about you – does your local recycling facility have a designated area for paint recycling?


About the Author ()

I am a long time supporter of the Green and Sustainable lifestyle. After being caught in the Boscastle floods in 2004, our family begun a journey to respect and promote the importance of Earth's fragile ecosystem, that focussed on reducing waste. Inspired by the beauty and resourcefulness of this wonderful planet, I have published numerous magazine articles on green issues and the author of four books.

Comments (16)

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  1. John Costigane says:

    Hi Mrs Green,

    That in a nutshell is the problem up here, where you cannot trust the recipients of waste, like paint. They simply landfill it without regard to anything else.

    I have noticed recently that wheelies and recycling boxes have not been emptied. It is a small thing so far but I will be watching closely in future. The big laugh, as you can well imagine, is that they will have to wait until the 5 year binbag challenge has ended, to avoid emptying my landfill bin. I can hardly wait!

    There is a concern for jobs, with regard to Zero Waste, but there will be alternatives eg food waste collectors and AD workers. Change can be difficult but it is necessary.

  2. Deb from Boston says:

    Here is what I found on the City of Boston web site/ recycling page (sigh)

    What should I do with my old paint?
    Latex paint is non-toxic. Let it dry out and it can go in your regular trash. Oil paint is toxic. You may bring reusable oil paint to a paint drop-off site. See Paint and Motor Oil for more information. Oil paint in non-reusable condition should be taken to a hazardous waste drop-off day. See Hazardous Waste for more information.

    We also have a non-profit – Building Resource Center where any unused/ still good building material (i.e. cabinets, light & bathroom fixtures, doors, etc, collects paint. And active craigslist options.

  3. Poppy says:

    I did a guestimate search Mrs G and was surprised to see where they wanted to send you. There is a place here. They are part of Vision 21.

    Google Maps puts that at about 18 miles from you.

  4. Eco Champion says:

    Thanks forthe ideas.

    We have just had our house renovated and have load of paint pots which need sorting.

  5. Mrs Green says:

    @John Costigane: I used to be concerned that if everyone reduces their waste, people will be out of jobs, but I don’t believe this to be the case any more. It simply means that jobs will CHANGE, not disappear. It should be an exciting future that we can all look forward to 🙂

    @Deb from Boston: Interesting information, Deb. We were told that even gloss paint (oil) can go into landfill now because of low toxicity. I find this very concerning. So the best option is always to use up the last drops where possible; like your building resource centre.

    @Poppy: I saw that Poppy, but on my list that was only for collection, not for donation. **scratches head**

    @Eco Champion: Have you tried Community Repaint, eco champion? Was there a drop off point near you? In addition, it is worth offering on freecycle; we get artists asking for paint remnants on our group from time to time.

  6. Sarah says:

    We get paint offered on freecycle here. I tend to only get a small pot and use it all, applying an extra coat to somewhere to use it up if I have to!

  7. I had exactly the same problem when I wanted to dispose of paint from our shed clear out.

    I had carefully kept it separate, but was told it had to go into the landfill bin.

    I also tried my postcode and found that my nearest place was approx 40 miles away as well.

  8. Deb from Boston says:

    This isn’t about paint – but to follow-up on what is happening in Boston on the recycling front here is a link to the Boston Globe (the primary paper in the city) on the city’s July 1 switch to single stream curb side recycling program. I did find the comments following the piece interesting on what makes it difficult for folks to partcipate.

  9. Mrs Green says:

    @Sarah: Hi Sarah, paint is quite a popular item on our Freecycle too, but there is nothing worse than running out of a colour mid wall LOL!

    @maisie dalziel: It’s a shame isn’t it Maisie. Hopefully, with an increase in demand, the community repaint collection points may increase in time.

    @Deb from Boston: That’s a really interesting story, Deb. And I’m amazed just how much recycling some residents are producing when reading the comments. I wonder if these people know to compact things such as plastic bottles and tins? Single stream recycling does concern me, because my understand is that it produces poorer quality recyclate, but you probably have a completely different system over there.

  10. Poppy says:

    @Mrs Green:

    When prices of recycled materials were hitting a low a few months ago, I am told that ours held their price quite well because they are sorted kerbside. Councils that take everything together had problems because of the contaminates and more of their stuff is shipped abroad to be dealt with.

  11. Mrs Green says:

    @Poppy: Hi Poppy; your comment is really important to this issue and I have heard similar things. Spending a bit of extra time at the kerbside can reap long term benefits. I hope ‘those in power’ start to understand this and change things for the better instead of chasing the quick fix.

  12. Chris Kampf says:

    On a slightly different recycling note. I’ve been trying to find small paint tins to make sculptures with. I make sculptures using roughly 60% recycled steel, one of my designs is a mouse jumping out of a paint pot (he’s on my website). I use Humbrol 50ml pots, which are perfect for the job, unfortunately I don’t get through the paint quick enough. I’ve been collecting the odd half used paint tin from carboot sales but could do with a few more. A tin with dried out paint is ideal.
    Anyone with a few old tins knocking around the back of their cupboard….contact me via I’m based in Somerset, England

  13. Mrs Green says:

    @Chris Kampf: Hi Chris, good to see you. We’d love to be able to support you with your venture. Perhaps we could hook up and write an article to give you more exposure (so to speak :D)

  14. Chris Kampf says:

    @Mrs Green: That would be great. Love to write an article although I’m not very confident on writing stuff!

  15. Mrs Green says:

    Don’t worry about it – I’ll send you an email in a moment and we can discuss things 🙂

  16. Alan says:

    Remember some paint in the UK is classed as hazardous – check for the harmful symbol on the can. It’s rare but they are on the market.

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