How to Dispose of Automotive Paint

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Leftover paint presents the largest volume of material collected by household hazardous waste programs, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Because paint includes potentially hazardous materials that can contaminate land and water, disposing of leftovers should be a last resort after you try to reuse or recycle the product, say the EPA and the National Paint & Coatings Association. Proper disposal of your unusable automotive paint depends on whether it's solvent- or water-based.

Getting Rid of Unwanted Automotive Paint

  • Properly store your leftover paint, making sure the lid is tightly sealed and keeping the paint in a cool, dry place where the temperature remains between 50 and 80 degrees. As long as the extra paint remains usable, you can use it for touch-ups, retint it for another project or give it away.

  • Donate your unthinned paint. Contact a local hobby shop to inquire about model-car enthusiasts who may be interested in leftover automotive paint, or find a church group or art school that might find a good use for it. Also investigate whether your community offers a paint-exchange event, or set one up yourself.

  • Advertise your leftover paint on Freecycle or Craigslist. Place a curb alert notice describing the type and color of the product to let people know you're giving away leftover automotive paint. List your address and place the paint in your front yard so anyone interested can come by and pick it up.

  • Read the product label for the paint manufacturer's instructions on proper disposal of your paint. Ask retailers---who typically don't accept leftover paint---about the best or most common methods to dispose of paint in your area.

  • Locate your area's hazardous household waste collection program and ask about policies and collection sites. Some locales offer periodic---such as twice-a-year---collection of such materials. Visit the Earth 911 website for information on collection programs available in your community. Safe disposal of solvent-based paint requires using a household hazardous waste program.

  • Dry and discard latex acrylic---which is less hazardous to the environment than solvent-based paint---if no collection programs are available in your area. The National Paint & Coatings Association recommends pouring unused latex paint into an absorbent material like cat box filler, shredded newspaper or sawdust, then leaving the lid off the can to allow the residual paint to dry completely. Dispose of the dried material with your regular trash.

  • Contact your local or state environmental protection agency for specific information about disposing of solvent-based paint products in your area. If there are no local collection facilities, ask the state agency to stage a collection event in your community.

Tips & Warnings

  • Limit waste by carefully estimating the amount of paint needed, remembering that automotive paints are usually thinned before they're applied. Ensuring that you purchase the correct amount of paint for your project will save money and mean you have less paint to dispose of when you're finished.
  • Do not empty solvent-based paints---which are ignitable and present environmental hazards---on the ground or into regular household garbage, storm sewers or household drains, especially in homes with septic tanks, says the National Paint & Coatings Association.

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