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Residential Recycling in Mecklenburg County

Paint Purchasing and Disposal 


Buy the right amount of paint for the job

Example: Before you begin a painting project, measure the area first. Calculate the area to be painted (height x width = total square feet). One gallon covers about 400 square feet. (Height x width = area-square feet)
Benefits: Using low-VOC or water-based paints, stains, finishes and paint strippers will help keep hazardous chemicals out of your home. Prevent waste through wise purchasing; calculate the right amount of paint for the job. Use leftover paint up instead of throwing it away.

Latex Paint is NOT a Hazardous Waste

Remember that your latex (water-based) paint is NOT a household hazardous waste!*  And, leftover latex paint isn’t meant to be thrown away at all.  Most leftover latex paint is reusable!

Save it for future use!  Leftover latex paint will last for years if you cover the can opening with plastic wrap, and make sure the lid (use its origial container) fits securely so the paint doesn’t leak.  Then, and here’s the key step:  store the paint can upside down.  The paint will create a tight seal around the lid, keeping the paint fresh until you need it again. Store the paint where it will not freeze. If stored correctly, paint stays in good condition for a long time. If it mixes smoothly, it can still be used. Use leftover paint for touch-up jobs, smaller projects or as a primer.

Donate or exchange the paint!  If you just can’t use your leftover paint, donate it to community groups, theater groups, schools, churches and others who need or want it.  You may even be able to take a tax deduction!  Another good way to get rid of your unwanted leftover paint is to participate in – or organize – a neighbor-to-neighbor or community-wide paint exchange/paint swap.

Dispose of it properly!  You should be able to save, use up, donate or exchange leftover paint.  But if as a last resort you need to dispose of your leftover paint, make sure you do it properly.

Latex Paint 
Let your leftover latex paint air dry away from children and pets.  One method is to pour the latex paint into a paper box or bag, and add absorbent material such as shredded newspaper and cat box filler to speed drying.  The can with the lid off and the dried paint may then be placed with your normal garbage.  Liquid latex paint should not be discarded with normal garbage. Wet paint causes spills from collection vehicles. 

Oil-based Paint 
We do not recommend allowing oil paint to air dry; however, if the paint has solidified in a closed can, you may dispose of it with the lid off with your regular garbage.  You may also fill the paint can with cat litter or other absorbent materials.  Allow the paint to dry. Leave the lid off, and place in the rollout for disposal. Non-solidified or liquid oil paint should not be discarded with normal garbage. Wet paint causes spills from collection vehicles.  You can also recycle liquid oil paint by taking it to one of the Household Hazardous Waste facilities in Mecklenburg County.

(*Latex paint products were independently tested in March, 1997 using United States Environmental Protection Agency procedures and protocols, and were found as not  meeting any of the requirements to be considered a hazardous waste.)

How to Tell if Your Paint is Latex or Solvent-Based?

Paints are either latex – also known as “water-based” – or solvent-based, sometimes called “oil” or alkyd paints. There are two easy ways to help tell the difference!

1. Read the Label

· For solvent-based paint, you’ll often see the words “alkyd” or “oil-based” on the label.
· Clean-up instructions on the label are also a good way to tell whether a product is solvent-based.  If the label says to use mineral spirits or turpentine to clean your brush or roller, then the product is solvent-based.
· If clean-up instructions say you can clean your brush or roller with soap and water, it is typically latex paint.
NOTE:  If the label is missing or unreadable, you should assume it is solvent-based for disposal purposes.

2. See if the Paint Dissolves in Water

· Put a small amount of the paint in a jar or cap, mixed with water.
· If it’s latex paint, it will readily mix with water.  Since it is water-based, it will become thinner as water is added.
· If it’s solvent-based paint, it won’t dissolve in water.  The paint and water will separate like vinegar and oil.



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