latex paint recyclingLatex paint was first made available in the 1950s as house paint, making it relatively new on the paint scene. Modern forms of latex paint became readily available starting in the 1960s, made initially by Liquitex. Today, people look to this water-soluble paint for easy cleaning, water resistance, opacity and quick-drying capability. Find out more about how to safely and responsibly dispose of leftover latex paint below.

Latex paint composition

Latex paint is a general term that covers all paints that use synthetic polymers such as acrylic, vinyl acrylic or styrene acrylic as binders. But, the term “latex paint” is actually a misnomer, because it does not contain any actual latex, which is a natural material derived from a Brazilian rubber tree that is now mostly produced in southeast Asia. Instead, latex paint is composed of synthetic polymers that look just like natural latex, but have a completely different chemical makeup and different properties. This is good news for people with natural latex allergies. Latex paint is composed of resins suspended in water and pigment. As the water evaporates, the resin particles fuse together, forming a strong, durable paint. The pigment component is made of powdery materials that do not dissolve, but remain suspended when mixed with a binder. By themselves, pigments have no way of adhering to a surface; that is why paint also needs a binder. In the case of latex paint, the binder is usually made of a combination of acrylic and vinyl resins combined with water to create an emulsion.

Why we should recycle latex paint

One of the biggest misperceptions about leftover latex paint is that it is hazardous waste. In fact, latex paint is not hazardous, and if there are no recycling options, it can be safely disposed of as part of the regular trash collection. PaintCare recommends a five-point approach to responsible latex paint disposal:
  1. Buy right. The best way to prevent waste is to buy just the right amount of paint that you need. Visit PaintCare’s Paint Calculator to estimate how much paint you will need for the job you have in mind.
  2. Store properly. It is very common to have leftover paint and store it for touchups. However, this paint often becomes unusable because it was not stored properly. To effectively store latex paint, cover the can with plastic wrap, then secure the lid as tightly as possible. Then store it upside down to create a good seal in a dry area that will not freeze.
  3. Use it! Use up leftover paint around the house if possible. You can combine various colors and use it as a primer or use it in areas where color is not a concern. If you do not have any uses for the paint in your own home, consider donating leftover paint to schools, churches, community groups, theater groups or any other group you have in mind. You can also check with your local paint store if it takes opened cans of paint.
  4. Recycle the rest. If you live in a state with paint stewardship laws, like Oregon, California, Connecticut, Rhode Island or Maine, you can take your paint to a PaintCare drop-off site. PaintCare provides paint to Habitat for Humanity ReStores or processes it for reuse through programs like MetroPaint. PaintCare burns any paint that cannot be recycled using biomass or other incineration techniques to generate energy. If you do not live in a state with paint stewardship laws, check with your local municipality for convenient ways to recycle latex paint. You may also want to look into “round up” recycling events, where municipalities accept items such as latex paint for recycling.
  5. Dry and dispose properly. Still, in most cities and states, the only option for responsibly disposing of latex paint is to dry it out and throw it in the trash. It is important to dry out the paint, as it may leak during the trash collection process if it is not completely dry. You can dry cans of paint by:
  • Air drying. Remove the lid and let the paint dry out in a dry, safe location away from children and home ventilation systems. Note: This only works with an inch or less of remaining paint in a can.
  • Use a drying agent. Add cat litter, sawdust, dirt or shredded paper to the can of paint to dry it out.
  • Use paint hardener. Mix latex paint with commercial paint hardener according to the directions. This will leave the paint with a tacky, oatmeal-like texture that will not spill.

What to look out for

Be sure that the paint you are disposing of is latex paint and not oil-based paint. Look on the label for the words “latex” or “acrylic” or for directions to clean up or thin out with water. Oil-based paints should be taken to a hazardous waste facility in your area for safe disposal.

Latex paint disposal regulations

Some states, like Oregon, California, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Maine, have passed a Paint Product Stewardship Law, which is an industry-led end-of-life management program for post-consumer paint, for which the nonprofit, PaintCare, was established to operate. PaintCare has set up drop-off locations in those states where consumers can take unwanted, leftover paint — usually at retail stores that also sell paint, because they have regular business hours and convenient locations. Check with your municipality about other latex paint disposal regulations specific to your area. Find your nearest latex paint recycling location here.