Your garage or workshop likely has a large collection of old paint cans, and disposing of them properly is extremely important to the environment. According to Earth911, some brands of paint created prior to 1978 contain the neurotoxin mercury and some current paints contain lead and petroleum. In many states, it is against the law to dispose of paint in your regular trash, and heaping those old paint cans in a trash bin can get you fined. Trash companies also warn that paint cans in trash bins could create a big mess upon collection; cans get punctured by other trash, leaking paint onto your driveway. The old-world advice of opening paint cans to let them dry before throwing out the cans is not advisable; that process can create fumes and fire hazards.
If you look in your collection, you'll likely find leftover cans from home painting projects, as well as other paint-related hazardous waste like lacquers, thinners, paint strippers, varnish and wood stains. You may even have old paint rollers encrusted with dry paint. All of these must be disposed of in an ecologically sound manner.
Here are the easy and earth-friendly ways to dispose of your paint supply:
--Know which types of paint you have. Toxin-filled oil-based paints in a metal can will often have the word "alkyd" on the label, as well as instructions to clean paint using turpentine or mineral spirits. Latex paints are most common for current paint jobs, but many brands of these may contain volatile organic compounds that are dangerous to the environment and for human inhalation. Mark each type of paint with a colored sticky note to make it easier for you to organize and identify each type of paint for your recycling and disposal process.
--Contact your township recycling center to find out which forms of paint they collect and their rules. Latex paint cans, for instance, might need to be filled with cat box filler or shredded newspaper to absorb leftover paint before dropping off at the recycling center on a designated collection day. Several states have enacted laws about paint disposal, establishing take-back programs, but most communities run collections of paint products without laws requiring it.
--If your municipality does not collect hazardous waste in its own facility, find a nearby recycling center using Earth911's online tool, plugging in your ZIP code and the types of paint materials you'd like to recycle or dispose of (latex paint, oil-based paint, lacquers, wood stains and even lead paint chips you've scraped off the window frames you're remodeling). You'll find information on each of the specialty recycling centers or programs you can visit to dispose of all of your paint products, as well as many additional hazardous waste products in your home.
--Call 800-CLEANUP to locate hazardous waste collection centers that accept oil-based paints or lead-inclusive paints. This might happen only on certain days or weekends.
--Ask about paint donation programs for your newly purchased paints. If you've just finished painting a bedroom with an eco-friendly VOC-free paint -- such as Benjamin Moore's Aura collection, Olympic Premium brand found at Lowe's stores, Freshaire's Choice brand found at Home Depot and Sherwin Williams' Harmony brand -- you may be able to donate your leftover paints for use in a community or school project. This can be a great solution if you've purchased four cans of a particular color and found you don't like the shade. Or you measured your space incorrectly and bought twice the paint you need. A community project or school may be very happy to use your paints.
--Prevent waste. If you have leftover paint you plan to use again soon, paint collection and safety program PaintCare suggests covering the opening of the paint can with plastic wrap before securely sealing the lid to make an airtight seal. Then, importantly, store your paint cans in a space that has moderate temperatures, not in a garage that gets to a freezing temperature, for the paint's future use. Never leave paint cans open in a basement where fumes can sicken family members and pets or perhaps even ignite from a furnace's flame.
--Use again. Label each can with information on which room or project it was used on and when, so that you use the right shade for a wall touchup project.
--Switch to low- or no-VOC paints for all future paint projects, say the experts at TheDailyGreen.com, to create healthier indoor air quality during your painting time and for years afterward.
--Use paint company websites' online tools to measure exactly the amount of paint you need to buy, eliminating waste and saving money.