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Paint Waste Disposal Rules for Residential and Industrial Paint

August 1, 2019

An unanticipated but significant challenge to executing industrial repair and maintenance projects is that almost anything you might use to clean, lubricate, or otherwise preserve your facility and equipment can be deemed a hazardous waste if it’s leftover in sufficient quantities.

Paint Waste is a good example

While it’s intuitive that bubbling cauldrons of leftover cleaners and solvents might require hazardous waste management, leftover paint seems relatively benign. After-all, you just did the kid’s bedroom with baby blue latex, and nobody reported you to Social Services for child endangerment.

Also, you’re probably storing the leftover latex down in the basement, at-the-ready for when Junior inevitably gets in touch with his inner-Picasso and crayons the bedroom walls. So, the issue of paint recycling has been a moot point for you. Correct?

But alas, when Junior grows older and baby blue walls become hopelessly “not-cool” among the fourth-grade population, how will you get rid of that estranged latex?

For small quantities, the answer is refreshingly simple. The EPA suggests that you expose the leftover latex to air, or mix it with shredded newspapers, causing it to dry to a solid, and then just throw it away in the household garbage. But household is the keyword here.

To paraphrase the EPA, “households” are “single or multiple residences, hotels, motels, bunkhouses, ranger stations, crew quarters, campgrounds, picnic grounds, and day-use recreation areas.”

Your industrial widget manufacturing plant clearly doesn’t qualify.

So what to do?

If you live in one of nine places, things might be relatively easy. PaintCare is a nonprofit organization representing paint manufacturers. It operates collection programs that allow you to take leftover paint to a collection site for recycling (usually a designated paint retailer).

More pertinent to this discussion, PaintCare also offers a service to households that have 200 gallons or more of leftover paint to dispose of. They will come and pick it up. And you can’t beat the price. It’s free. Check it out here.

But before you get too excited, know that PaintCare only operates in California, Colorado, Connecticut, District of Columbia, Maine, Minnesota, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Vermont. If you live in one of the other 42 states, things are a bit more complicated.

Here’s what you need to know:

Latex paints

Here’s some irony for you? Latex paints aren’t considered a hazardous waste, so they’re typically unwelcome at hazardous waste TSDFs, making them arguably more difficult to dispose of than their hazmat counterparts—unless you know the right people. That would be us.

For you DIY zealots, the most common advice is to mix latex paint with kitty litter, allow it to solidify, and then just treat it as trash. But obviously, if you tried that with a few hundred gallons of leftover latex, the local feline population might have to go without, as it were.

Besides, latex paints are easily recycled. Solids are extruded from the paint, melted, and pelletized for use as colorants or additives in other recycled polymers. So, there are companies eager to accept your leftovers, just to make them into something new that they can sell.

Isn’t capitalism grand? To find a latex recycler near you, take a look here.

Oil-based paints

You’ve undoubtedly heard the term “oil-based paint.” It’s actually pigment particles suspended in oil. Its viscosity depends on solvents such as turpentine or white spirit; and varnish might be added to increase glossiness.

Relative to latex, oil-based paints dry to a smoother and glossier finish, with a harder enamel that’s more resistant to scratches and fingerprints. Viewed juxtaposed, many casual observers opine that the oil-based paint simply looks better than its latex counterpart.

Anything that works that well, you might think, is probably illegal. And you’re pretty close to correct.

Since the 1990s, the EPA has been focusing on “volatile organic compounds” (VOCs), which are found in things like glass cleaners, dishwasher and laundry detergents, fragrances, and other seemingly innocuous things.

VOCs such as mineral spirits, naphtha, lacquer thinners, and other stuff you wouldn’t think to swig are constituents of oil-based paints. And when wet oil-based paints dry, the VOCs vaporize, scurry up into the sky, and promptly begin depleting the ozone.

And by now you’ve undoubtedly heard the news about the ozone.

That’s why oil-based paints are nowadays relatively scarce, and/or only sold in small quantities (usually less than one quart). It’s also why it behooves you to treat any leftover oil-based paint as a hazardous waste. (Consider yourself behooved.)

To find a TSDF convenient to your work-site that handles oil-based paint, click here to contact us.

Industrial Paints

If you’re doing aerospace, automotive, or electronics—not to mention, marine, medical, military, optical, pharmaceutical, semiconductor, or textile applications—you’re probably not repainting because you’ve lately fallen in love with pastels and just want to brighten up the place.

More likely, you have a specific need (e.g. heat resistance, rust prevention, waterproofing, or fire-retarding) that requires one or another kind of industrial paint. Such paints are pigmented liquids or powders for protecting substrates such as asphalt, ceramic, fiberglass, and metal.

If you’re using industrial paints, look at the leftover drums. If they say acrylic, epoxy, polyester, polyurethane, or polytetrafluoroethylene, then they keep company with a rouges’ gallery of resins, solvents, additives, and pigments that are of acute occupational interest to EPA denizens.

Although any one of these chemical constituents mightn’t be a listed hazardous waste per the EPA, it could nonetheless be considered a characteristic waste if it possesses one or more noxious “characteristics” such as corrosivity, ignitability, reactivity, and/or toxicity.

The danger here is that it’s up to you to determine whether your leftover industrial paint is a characteristic hazardous waste: a requirement you must meet within a specified time-frame so that the paint “characteristics” don’t change over time.

Also, you can’t make this determination if the paint has been inadvertently mixed with some other waste, which would constitute an entirely new and different toxic can of worms requiring more-complicated chemical analyses.

Clearly—as in all things regarding hazardous waste (in specific) and the EPA (in general): expert advice is crucial.

Get Expert Help

If your business, organization, or government agency has paint waste you need to have disposed of or recycled, Hazardous Waste Experts can help you. For a fast price quote call us at 800-936-2311 or click here to request a quote via email.


* The featured image used in this post is by Steven Depolo and can be found on Flickr here.

Disposal of hazardous waste doesn’t have to be painful.