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Post-Consumer Paint Management


Remarkably, an estimated 10 percent of the more than 650 million gallons of architectural paint sold each year in the United States is unused. Post-consumer paint is the largest component of local household hazardous waste collection programs and is costly to manage. Post-consumer paint can be collected for reuse, recycling, energy recovery, or safe disposal, but doing so requires public awareness and a convenient and effective infrastructure that exceeds local government budgets and capacity. Additionally, such a system must also be cost effective.

Following a  2007 Memorandum of Understanding with the Paint Product Stewardship Initiative (organized by the Product Stewardship Institute and bringing together government and industry) calling for a nationally, coordinated program for the management of post-consumer paint, the American Coatings Association created PaintCare®, a not-for-profit (501(c)(3)) organization whose sole purpose is to ensure effective operation and efficient administration of paint product stewardship programs on behalf of all architectural paint manufacturers in the United States. PaintCare undertakes the responsibility for ensuring an environmentally sound and cost-effective program by developing and implementing strategies to reduce the generation of post-consumer architectural paint; promoting the reuse of post-consumer architectural paint; and providing for the collection, transport, and processing of post-consumer architectural paint using the hierarchy of "reduce, reuse, recycle," and proper disposal.

Legislation mandating the creation of the PaintCare program has been enacted in eight states since 2009: Oregon, California, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Vermont, Minnesota, Maine, and Colorado. The program is being implemented with great success in Oregon (since July 2010), California (since July 2012), Connecticut (since July 2013), Rhode Island (since May 2014), Vermont (since June 2014) and program operations will commence in Minnesota by November 2014, and in Maine and Colorado by July 2015.    

PaintCare legislation enables the industry to implement a program for the management of post-consumer paint by providing for a level playing field among manufacturers and retailers; a sustainable financing system; and an antitrust exemption for activities pursuant to the program — most notably the financing system. The financing system is termed a paint stewardship assessment. The law defines this as "the amount added to the purchase price of architectural paint sold in the state necessary to cover the cost of collecting, transporting and processing the post-consumer architectural paint managed through a state-wide architectural paint stewardship pilot program." This assessment is paid to PaintCare by producers for architectural paint sold in Oregon in order to fund the program. PaintCare laws specify that it must be added to the wholesale price of paint to all distributors and retailers and included in the final purchase price of paint to all state consumers. This financing system allows funding for the program to be apportioned fairly amongst the manufacturers and retailers and is based on actual sales of new paint. In addition, it provides for a transparent system, where the consumer shares in the responsibility for the end-of-life management of the product.

Using this funding, PaintCare will operate as the stewardship organization and, on behalf of manufacturers (PaintCare participation is not limited to ACA members, but open to all architectural paint manufacturers; there are no dues or registration fees for them) of architectural paint sold in the state, have set up and are running a convenient, state-wide system for the collection of post-consumer architectural paint enabling many residents in the state who currently do not have access to a program to more easily return, reuse and recycle left-over paint. The nominal assessment, or PaintCare Recovery Fee, covers not only newly purchased products — but the gallons and gallons of paint people already have in their basements and garages. The collected paint is managed using the end-of-product-life hierarchy of reuse, recycling, energy recovery and proper disposal.

The assessment will go toward consumer education and outreach for the program as well as administrative costs. Consumer education is paramount in the PaintCare program, since paint is a consumable product. ACA and its industry have always maintained that manufacturers do not produce paint to be thrown away — it is not inherently recyclable — but to be used up. In order to work toward a goal of post-consumer paint waste minimization, the consumer must be engaged. PaintCare’s educational program does not just focus on recycling and proper management of leftover paint, but on buying the right amount of paint and taking advantage of the reuse opportunities that can help reduce the generation of leftover paint in the first place.

For more information on this issue, contact ACA's Alison Keane. You may learn more about PaintCare by visiting the PaintCare website,


So, what can you do with leftover or post-consumer paint whether or not you have the PaintCare program in your state?

Be Paint Wise, Buy The Right Size

Do your part to help better manage our world’s natural resources. Follow the steps listed below and you will be improving the environment by following the 3R’s … Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle.

    Be a wise consumer and buy only what you need. Check with your local paint dealer for instructions on how to determine the correct volume of paint required for your project. When you purchase the right volume of paint, it eliminates the need to store or dispose/recycle paint when the project is finished, and it might even save you money. When your painting project is complete, take a look in the can. If there is only a small quantity of paint left, use it up. Paint out the last inch-or-two of paint in the bottom of the can.
    If your project is complete and you still have a fair amount of paint leftover, be sure to correctly store the paint. Proper paint storage will eliminate safety concerns and keep your paint fresh for touch-ups or future projects. For best results, cover the opening of the paint can with plastic wrap and securely seal the lid. When you are sure the lid is leak-proof, turn the can upside down and store it in a place with a moderate room temperature to avoid freezing. Be sure to choose a safe location that is out of the reach of children and pets.
    Now that you have safely stored your leftover paint, don’t forget about it. Leftover paint can be used for touch-ups or smaller projects and lighter colors can be taken back to a paint retailer and be retinted for another paint project. Record the room name on the lid for future touch ups. You can blend and mix smaller quantities of latex paint to use as a base coat on larger jobs. Perhaps, you know a neighbor or relative who could use your leftover paint; now, that’s being environmentally friendly!
    If you can’t make use of the paint yourself, donate your useable leftover paint to a worthwhile community association, theatre company, church group or other local organizations that may be in need of good paint. Perhaps, your community offers a paint exchange event or a special paint collection program. Many communities collect paint for reuse, recycling or as a last resort, proper disposal through local Household Hazardous Waste (HHW) collection programs. Check PaintCare's website,
    , to learn about paint reuse, recycling and HHW collection programs that are available in your community.
    If there is not a leftover paint collection program available in your area, you may need to dispose of leftover latex paint yourself. Air-drying of liquid alkyd or oil based paint is not considered safe. In regions that allow it, let your latex paint air dry in a safe location away from children and pets. A small amount of paint, less than ½ inch, in the bottom of a paint can is easily dried out by leaving the lid off. Once the paint is hard, discard the paint can with the lid off, preferably in a metal recycling program. If metal recycling is not available or the paint container is plastic, dispose of the container in the garbage. Larger volumes of latex paint can be dried in a box with absorbent material such as shredded paper or kitty litter. Recycle the empty can with the lid off and dispose of the dried out latex paint as garbage. If the paint in the can is solidified all the way through, it may be disposed of as garbage with the lid off to prevent the build up of pressure in the can.

Download the full color brochure:

  • The Five-Point Program for Leftover Paint (496.93 kB)
    This brochure provides a step-by-step method for consumers to safely dispose leftover latex and alkyd paint, as well as paint thinners, mineral spirits, and solvents. It also lists several sources for further information.


Latex Paint Disposal

Liquid wastes are restricted from municipal solid waste landfills – never throw away leftover liquid paints in your trash.

Disposal Steps

  1. Unused latex paint should be poured into an absorbent material such as a cat box filler, shredded newspaper or sawdust.
  2. Let it dry completely and dispose of the dried material in your regular trash.
  3. In areas where recycling programs exist, save the dry, empty containers with the lids off for a steel can recycling program. Small amounts of dried residue will not hinder steel can recycling.
  4. Wash your paint brushes and painting tools in the sink. Never clean your paint brushes near a storm sewer drain.


Solvent-Based Paint Disposal

Solvent-based or alkyd paints require special disposal practices. Solvent-based paints are ignitable and present particular hazards. These products should not be emptied into storm sewers, household drains (especially if you have a septic tank) or on the ground.

Disposal Steps

  1. Save solvent-based paints for a household hazardous waste collection program or contact your local/state government environmental protection agency for guidance on reuse or disposal of unwanted solvent-based paint products.
  2. In areas where recycling programs exist, save the dry, empty containers with the lids off for a steel can recycling program. Small amounts of dried residue will not hinder steel can recycling.
  3. Clean paint brushes and painting tools with paint thinner or turpentine.

Remember, Paint disposal is Usually Unnecessary:

Before you dispose of any paint product – apply a second coat, touch up areas which need improvement and attempt to donate "leftover" paint.


Reusing Paint Thinners, Turpentine, Mineral Spirits And Solvents

Paint thinners, turpentine, mineral spirits and solvents can be reused. These products, like solvent-based or alkyd paints, should not be emptied into storm sewers, household drains (especially if you have a septic tank) or on the ground. You can reuse these types of products.

Reuse Steps

  1. Put used turpentine or brush cleaners in a closed container and leave it in a safe place until the paint particles settle to the bottom.
  2. Pour off the clear liquid into an empty, clean container which has a lid for reuse.
  3. Add an absorbent material such as a cat box filler, shredded newspaper or sawdust to the remaining residue
  4. Let this residue dry completely before disposing of it in your regular trash.
  5. In areas where recycling programs exist, save the dry, empty containers with the lids off for a steel can recycling program. Small amounts of dried residue will not hinder steel can recycling.


Recycling Paint And Aerosol Containers

Since all paint and aerosol containers are composed of high-grade steel, they can be recycled in a steel can recycling program. Paint containers made of Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET resin SPI code 1) and High Density Polyethylene (HDPE resin SPI code 2) plastic are also recyclable in many communities. Check with your local/state government to determine whether steel and other materials may be recycled in your community.

Recycling Steps

  1. To recycle paint containers, make sure they are empty and dry. A thin layer of dried paint on the bottom and sides of the can is usually acceptable.
  2. In order to recycle paint can lids, just remove them from the container.
    To recycle empty aerosols, do not puncture, crush or incinerate the can. You do not have to remove the nozzle of the spray cans for recycling, but do remove the aerosol caps, which are generally made of plastic.


Post-Consumer Paint Education

ACA's Protocol for Management of Post-Consumer Paint covers education, waste management programs, cost considerations and additional information about post-consumer paint, including approaches. ACA's Guidance Manual for Paint Reuse Programs provides details on how to establish or maximize a reuse program, and includes case studies and sample documents from successful reuse programs across the United States. ACA's best management program has been developed into a print brochure, made available below. The brochure, which advocates a “5-point program” for paint management, follows the 3r’s — Reduce, Reuse, Recycle — and focuses on five key steps: buying the correct amount of paint, storing it properly, using it up, supporting reuse and recycle programs, and proper disposal of leftover paint.

Download the full color brochures:

  • Protocol for Management of Post-Consumer Paint (1.49 MB)
    A guidance manual designed for anyone involved or interested in household waste management. The protocol discusses education issues, the main types of waste management programs, cost considerations, recycling steel cans and aerosols.
  • Guidance Manual for Paint Reuse Programs (1.15 MB)
    The development of effective, economical programs for the proper management of post-consumer paint is in the best interests of government, industry and the public. One type of program that has been successful for states, municipalities, non-profits and other organizations is a reuse program. This publication provides details on how to establish an effective reuse program. Developed in concert with state and local program officials participating in the Paint Product Stewardship Initiative dialogue, the manual reinforces the benefits of reuse programs including, how the donation of surplus materials, such as paint, provides companies and individuals with a no-cost method to support non-profit agencies and their communities; and how reuse programs serve to educate the public about the proper use and disposal of hazardous household materials generally.
  • The Five-Point Program for Leftover Paint (496.93 kB)
    This brochure provides a step-by-step method for consumers to safely dispose leftover latex and alkyd paint, as well as paint thinners, mineral spirits, and solvents. It also lists several sources for further information.




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