2022 Paint Waste Disposal Guide

Author: Marketing
Date: February 3, 2024

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:

  • Waste drum disposal
    Waste paint can be placed in government-approved and compliant disposal drums. The drum must be made of high-quality plastic or metal, leak-proof, durable, and sealable.

    The good thing about waste drum disposal is that it’s economical; you can use the same big drum for waste paint until it’s full and sealed. It’s also fast and easy to move or transport because most drums have standardized designs. This universal design makes it easy for loaders and trucks to haul and transport full drums.

  • Facility shutdown
    Spray booths, painting ovens, and automated mixing vats are just some of the machines that keep industries churning out painted products. However, it’s almost impossible to clean these machines unless they’re completely switched off. As such, while inconvenient and can cost the company a bit of profit, a scheduled facility shutdown is often essential.

    Having painting machinery completely cleaned and tuned up helps keep the facility running smoothly. In the long run, properly maintained equipment keeps cost down and production capacity up.

    During a scheduled facility shutdown, these machines undergo procedures such as power vacuuming, paint removal, or foundry sand removal. Residue and waste materials from these processes are then collected for proper treatment and disposal.

  • Hydro jetting
    This process involves the use of a high-pressure water jet to clear out pipes, lines, and other surfaces. The high pressure blows out grease, scale, sludge, silt, and other debris. Hydro jetting is also a preferred method of removing old lead-based paints; the toxic lead is washed away and collected with the water.
  • Tank cleaning
    Some facilities have holding tanks for waste paint and paint products. Cleaning these tanks regularly is an integral process to maintain the facility’s and its workers’ safety.

    Due to the bulk of waste paint as well as the complex nature of an industrial facility’s equipment, industrial paint hazardous waste disposal is best undertaken by professionals such as ACT Enviro.

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.

  • Donate waste paint
    Neighbors and small-scale entrepreneurs may be doing their own renovation projects for their home or shops. In such a case, you can donate your unused paint. It’s a win-win situation, they save costs and you get rid of hazardous stuff in your home.
  • Empty containers
    Waste household paints are often stored in their original containers. Before throwing out the containers, make sure they’re empty. The EPA RCRA provides the following criteria so you could correctly classify a container as empty. Any of these criterion applies:
  • all contents are removed using pouring, pumping, and other methods
  • only 1 inch or less of paint material remains in the container
  • the container is 3% of its original weight
  • Curbside collection
    Many municipalities designate curbside pick-up points and schedules so households can properly discard their hazardous waste materials. Check with your local government to identify pick-up points and schedules near your area.
  • Professional waste disposal
    Finally, you can contact a professional waste disposal service. They have teams of specially trained teams and the right equipment for safe and reliable paint hazardous waste disposal.

    Waste paint and residue gathered from industrial or residential sources are first treated in a recycling plant or a hazardous waste processing facility. Once treated, it can then be disposed of in a landfill or incinerated in a municipal incinerator or a waste-to-energy plant.

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

  • Brush the leftover paint on a piece of cardboard or plastic substrate. Place the painted substrate in a cool, well-ventilated area that’s protected from rain or snow. Allow the paint to air dry. When the paint is completely dry, the hazardous compounds are neutralized, and the substrate can then be thrown out along with regular trash.
  • Put some newspaper scraps or pour some kitty litter in the container where you stored your excess paint. Mix and let dry. The dried mixture can then be thrown away as solid waste.
  • For larger amounts of latex or acrylic paint, use a paint hardener. As the name implies, this hardens the remaining paint for easy disposal.
  • You might want to reuse your brushes, rollers, applicators, and other paint-related tools. When washing water-based paint off them, wash these tools on a drain that connects to the sanitary sewer. The minute quantity of paint in these tools isn’t really much of a concern when it comes to disposal in the drain.

    However, don’t wash paint tools in anything that connects to the storm sewer; the storm sewer often connects directly to rivers, seas, and other natural bodies of water. Hazardous chemicals in storm sewers can contaminate these bodies of water.

  • Never pour a large quantity of waste paint into the sewer drain. This is actually a violation of hazardous waste disposal regulations, and you could incur legal sanctions. Also, the paint may solidify in the pipes, requiring you to spend a chunk of your money for removing the paint or replacing the clogged pipe.

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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