Recycling Challenge: Paint

story by samantha wittchenFACT

Approximately 10 percent of the 637 million gallons of paint sold each year goes unused. This equals 64 million gallons per year.


Oil-based paints are considered household hazardous waste because they contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and are flammable. Some older, oil-based paints may also have lead, mercury, cadmium and other heavy metals toxic to humans and animals. In a landfill, the metals can leach into the soil and water supply, so it’s important to keep them out of the municipal waste stream. Except in California, latex paint isn’t considered household hazardous waste, but you should still dispose of it properly. Most latex paint still contains VOCs, and many have toxic chemicals that preserve shelf life and slow mildew growth.


Find the next drop-off event at the Streets Department’s Household Hazardous Waste website ( For the ’burbs, the surrounding counties also have Household Hazardous Waste collections. Montgomery County has organized the events into a Google Map on their website (

While some municipalities in the U.S. (like San Luis Obispo County in California) have started implementing latex paint take-back programs, there are, unfortunately, no such programs available for our region. To properly dispose of latex paint, make sure all the paint is solidified by adding kitty litter or other absorbent materials like sawdust or sand. Then place the paint in the trash. If you want to recycle the metal or plastic paint container (and we know you do!), just dump the liquid paint into a plastic bag first, add the absorbent material to solidify, rinse the paint can and recycle it.