Landfills may not be the most attractive place on earth, but they are not in need of a paint job either. It is common in American households for used paint cans to sit in basements, garages and sheds with a likelihood of never being reused. The Environmental Protection Agency recently stated that approximately 69 million gallons of paint are left over annually across the U.S. That is enough paint to cover New York City’s five boroughs more than three times over.
Although hoarding paint is a better option than tossing it in the trash, it is not doing any good sitting in your house either and can be reused and recycled. Discarded paint can contaminate soil and groundwater, but there are now many proper paint disposal options, along with ways to reuse paint’s recyclable containers.
History of paint composition
The use of paint can be dated back more than 20,000 years ago, with evidence of ancient Egyptians using iron oxides in early cave paintings. Paint quickly became available to the Romans in Crete and Greece, and Aztec Indians valued red dye significantly more than they did gold.
Ancient Egyptians were the first to develop new pigments by mixing soil in with iron oxides, creating yellow, orange and red results. Romans crushed mollusks into the mix to create a purple tone, and Aztecs used female cochineal beetles to achieve red hues. It took approximately 4 million mollusks and 1 million insects just to make a pound of paint.
Techniques quickly evolved. During the 1500s in Europe, cow urine was mixed with mud and blackthorn berries. Dried squid ink was also used to further pigment options. During the 16th century, dyes were grown and implemented into paints to illuminate the pigments. By the 17th century, the Dutch saw a significant increase in the availability of white lead and used it to line their coats with white paint.
It was during the 19th century that the word “paint” was used to describe all liquid pigments, as the term was previously only applied to oil-based products that were bound with glue. With the evolution of technology and tools, paints are not as natural as they originally were. With four major components in each can, paint consists of resin, solvent, pigment and additives. Even the most eco-friendly paints still contain chemicals, and as a result, they should not be discarded into the trash without following the proper procedures.
Disposing of oil-based paints, latex paints and water-based paints
Today, paints typically fall into three categories; oil-based, latex and water-based. Before considering paint disposal, you must look at the label because paint made prior to 1978 may contain lead, and paint made prior to 1991 may contain mercury. Both of these materials are listed on the paint label and should be discarded of carefully, as both lead and mercury pose serious environmental and health issues.
Even today, oil-based paints are considered hazardous waste and must be disposed correctly at a proper facility
. Water-based paints are also accepted at hazardous waste facilities. As for latex paint, you can dispose of them on your own. It is recommended that you pour latex paint into a box filled with shredded paper or kitty litter. This will solidify the contents, which can then be discarded of in the trash. The empty paint can be recycled with other metals.
The paint recycling process
Both water-based and latex paint can be recycled into new paint products or other items such as cement. Oil-based paints can be used for fuel blending, which is the process of burning it to create energy at a power plant. Although not a flawless option, it is better than discarding of this product inappropriately.
Once water-based and latex paints enter a recycling facility, they are filtered to ensure that any debris or solids that have built up in the liquid over time are removed. They are then mixed with standard paint (typically white) to enhance the color richness. Pigments are then added to achieve the correct shades, and pH levels are adjusted in latex paints by adding ammonia or amines.
Paint reuse options
Due to the high priority placed on environmental health, there are now many paint reuse or donation options available. Paint manufacturers will accept used paint cans and send them back to endure the recycling process. Some products are added to ensure the proper consistency, and then the recycled product is sold at a significantly lower price. Paint recycling decreases the amount of paint chemicals that enter landfills, meaning fewer toxins are released into the atmosphere. By recycling old paint, you are also providing someone else with the option to purchase your recycled paint at an affordable price.
Aside from doing your part and recycling and disposing of your paint cans properly, you can always opt for recycled paints when your next project arises. You can purchase 100% recycled paint, or standard paint that only contains 50% recycled components. You can also select many other percentages when shopping the varieties available of recycled paint. Do your share by reading labels and properly recycling your paint products.
To find a paint recycling location near you, visit our recycling location search.