2022 Paint Waste Disposal Guide

Paint brings colors to the world. We use it to color our houses, buildings, and cars. We use it for our arts, crafts, and hobbies. It’s so common that we often take paint for granted. However, we must remember that paint and its related products are still chemicals and must be handled with care.

Most paints are either oil-based or water-based with each type having dissimilar characteristics. However, the common denominator is that the chemicals used in paints are often toxic and may cause environmental contamination or health problems. The volatile organic compounds (VOCs) found in paint are harmful to the environment as well as the people working around paint. Some kinds of paints are also flammable and reactive.

Because of such dangers, paints and paint-related products are considered to be hazardous wastes. As such, they should be disposed of properly. This article will discuss in detail about the nuances of paint hazardous waste disposal.

An Overview of Paint Waste Disposal

In the past, leftover paint was mixed together with municipal waste and discarded in landfills. This action resulted in hazardous compounds from discarded paints seeping into the ground. These compounds eventually entered the water table below the subsoil, often contaminating the municipality’s water supply.

In addition, the discarded paints’ active ingredients are either toxic or flammable or both. Fauna that accidentally ingests paint compounds may fall seriously ill or even die. Surrounding flora may absorb toxic chemicals through their roots. These dangerous compounds may be present in their leaves, fruits, and seeds which people and other animals eat.  Sources of heat such as a carelessly discarded cigarette, a spark from a welder’s torch, or even sunlight during a hot day can ignite the volatile compounds of waste paint. 

Old and used paint and paint products, therefore, should be disposed properly. In general, waste paint is often stabilized and treated to nullify the toxic, flammable, and reactive compounds. It is then solidified so that it can be safely disposed of in a landfill.

Because many brands of paints and paint-related products contain flammable components, these components can be extracted and recycled into industrial fuel. Paints may also be incinerated in waste-to-energy facilities before the ashes are disposed of.

Paint Waste Disposal Types: Industrial and Residential

Paints are both used by industrial facilities and residences. Each sector has its own way of collecting and disposing paints.

Industrial Paint Disposal

Manufacturers of cars, appliances, electronics, and other products often use paint to protect and provide color to their products. Because of the requirement for mass production, these manufacturers often generate large quantities of waste paint. 

Industrial facilities must strictly follow the guidelines for paint hazardous waste disposal in the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) for disposing paints. These guidelines are enacted and enforced by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) through state departments and local government units.

Disposal of industrial paint can be done in various ways. Some of the most common ways are listed below:

Residential paint disposal

Households often have leftover paint from previous home renovation or repair projects. Family members may also generate smaller amounts of waste paint through crafts such as art painting or scale modeling. 

While the amount of waste paint generated in a residence is vastly smaller than those generated by factories, households must still follow the right practices and processes when it comes to paint hazardous waste disposal. 

Remember that it’s prohibited to discard paints in drains and sewer lines. So how do you as an ordinary household member dispose of leftover paint?  Fortunately, collecting and disposing household-generated paint is cheaper and more manageable than industrial waste paint management.

Disposal of Latex and Oil-Based Paint

How do you dispose of latex or oil-based paint that has been lying in your home or facility for quite some time? Here are a few tips on how to dispose of them:

Latex or acrylic paint

Oil-based paint

Oil-based paints are pigments suspended in an oil medium. It’s known as a popular art media, but it can also be used for more practical purposes. Enamel paints used to paint wrought-iron outdoor furniture is an example of an oil-based paint.

Disposing oil-based paints properly is difficult due to its non-polar, hydrophobic characteristic (i.e., it does not mix or dissolve in water). It also contains VOCs, which cannot be dried or deactivated.

If possible, use water-based counterparts rather than oil-based paints. However, if oil-based paints must be used, then you need to treat oil-based paints as hazardous waste. For disposal of waste paints, bring the containers to your nearest hazardous waste disposal facility. Alternatively, you can call a professional waste disposal service provider for safe and proper disposal for oil paints. 

Finally, as with water-based paints, do not pour oil-based paints down the drain.

Management of Paint Related Materials

You will most likely use other paint-related chemicals in conjunction with the paint. The most common ones are paint thinners and aerosol cans.

Paint thinners

Put used paint thinner in a metal can or a glass jar with a tight-fitting lid. Label the lid as a hazardous waste. Wait for the sediments to settle to the bottom, this might take several days to weeks. Carefully pour the clear thinner in another container for reusing. 

The container with the solid sediments should be disposed of as hazardous waste. Bring it to your hazardous waste disposal facility, follow a curbside hazardous waste collection, or have a professional do it for you. The same process applies for stale, unusable thinner that needs to be disposed of.

Like paints, do not discharge paint thinners and its residuals down the drain.

Aerosol cans

For safety, it’s best to use every bit of paint to the point that there’s no more pressurized air coming out of the can when you press the nozzle. Completely empty cans with no pressure can be thrown as regular trash.

Partially full or completely full aerosol cans should be treated and discarded as hazardous waste and, as thus, are subject to local, state, or federal regulations. 

Do not puncture aerosol cans or subject them to heat even when completely empty. Doing either may cause the can to explode violently, which can cause serious injuries.

2021 Hazardous Waste Regulations

The RCRA contains the regulations that cover hazardous wastes including paints. The EPA enacts and enforces these regulations through its state departments. Local government agencies such as departments of public sanitation, public health, and safety use RCRA rules (or base their own rules on RCRA regulations) to regulate hazardous wastes.

Water-based paints are usually not covered under RCRA regulation because they are considered non-flammable. However, both oil and water based paints contain metallic pigments, metals, fortifiers, and additives. These compounds are considered hazardous wastes when disposed of. 

In addition, aerosol cans are regulated as hazardous waste when disposed of due to the oil-based paints, chemical blends, and propellants inside the canister.

The specific regulations for paint hazardous waste disposal and classification are too expensive to be adequately covered in this article. For specifics, check out Title 40 of the Code of Federal Regulations.


The world uses paint every day. It’s a useful commodity that brightens and protects our homes and cities. However, they do contain chemicals that could pose a hazard to the environment and a detriment to human health. As such, we should use them responsibly, from acquisition to disposal.

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