Paint constitutes a major portion of the hazardous waste stream. If disposed of improperly, paint waste can enter storm drains and from there flow into streams and rivers, where it harms aquatic flora and fauna.

According to the National Paint Stewardship Initiative, over 650 million gallons of paint are sold every year, which comes to 2.4 gallons per person. Of that, about 16-35 million gallons become surplus. The IEPA reports that about 25 percent of the waste it collects at household hazardous waste (HHW) events is household paint.

As with other waste streams, paint waste management includes source reduction, reuse/recycling, and proper disposal. You can begin by creating as little surplus as possible.

  • First, buy only the quantity you need for a job. A large “cheaper-by-the-gallon” size won't save you anything, if you don't use it all.
  • When making your purchase, try to use a computerized paint mixing system when purchasing paint. Then you can reorder small amounts for touch-ups
  • . Also try to use paints that contain no heavy metals and look for low-VOC and water-based paints to reduce fumes that contribute to ground-level ozone pollution.
  • Back at home, use smaller paint cups to hold the paint and be sure to keep containers tightly sealed so the paint is good to use even months later.




Recycling and reuse options

The Illinois EPA has initiated a program called Partners for Waste Paint Solutions in partnership with local paint dealers and hardware stores. You can take unwanted paint to these locations, where it will be remixed so it can be reused. Although there are currently no locations in the city of Chicago, there are several in the nearby suburbs. For a complete list of locations, see IEPA link in “web resources,” below. You can also call your local schools, churches, or daycare centers to see if they have a use for your leftover paint.

Proper disposal Latex paint can be disposed of in the municipal trash, if it has been dried out first. Simply leave the can open or try adding shredded newspaper or kitty litter to the paint to help absorb the liquid and speed up the drying process.

For oil-based paint , you need to wait for the next household hazardous waste collection , held by the City of Chicago several times a year in conjunction with the Illinois EPA. At these collections, there is no charge to individuals dropping off paint or other HHW. (NOTE that latex paint is usually not accepted.) Dates and locations for collections in the Chicago area can be found on the IEPA website link , under “web resources,” below. Or call the Illinois EPA Waste Reduction Unit at (217) 785-8604 or the City of Chicago Department of Streets and Sanitation at (312) 744-4611.

Web resources Illinois EPA Household Hazardous Waste Collection Schedule