How to dispose of paint the environmentally friendly way

Top down shot of various opened tins of paint
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Knowing how to dispose of paint appropriately is important for anyone undertaking a decorating project – large or small.

Leftover paint is ideally disposed of by simply using it up, leaving only an empty can to bin. However, this is not always possible so understanding how to get rid of paint in an environmentally responsible way is handy to know.

Basically, you should never just throw leftover paint into your bin. Wet paint should be disposed of in a very specific manner. There are a few steps to ensure you are doing everything you can to not harm the environment too. 

Of course those who know plenty of other budding DIYers, can simply give your leftover paint to a friend who happens to be painting a wall in that exact colour. But, realistically let's face it, that is unlikely to happen.

Here we take a look at the responsible options for getting rid of both water and oil based paints.

How to dispose of paint in the easiest and safest way

Disposing of paint responsibly comes down to a couple of factors. First, it depends on what type of paint it is and second, how much paint you have. If you have a small amount of wet paint, the easy solution is to dry it out by leaving the lid off and disposing of it in your household bin. 

How long does paint take to dry? If the paint takes a few hours to dry when applied in a thin coat on wood or walls, it will obviously take longer when left in a paint can. But, there are a few options to speed up the process.

If you are looking to dispose of oil-based points, you are better taking these straight to a household recycling centre. Use recyclenow.com to find out which is your nearest centre that will accept your paint or paint tin. 

Most DIYers will only be looking to get rid of the odd can of paint but if you are looking to get rid of a lot of empty paint cans you will need to contact your local household recycling centre and see how much paint they are happy to take without charging.

Alternatively, you can call a waste disposal firm who will come round and collect your old tins of paint and dispose of them for you. This is much more convenient, but as you might expect it is a more expensive option, but a worthwhile and easy solution if it's within your budget and you have lots of cans.

However, make sure that you do your research beforehand and check they are licensed to carry out the work. 

How do I dry out wet paint quickly? 

If you only have a little bit of wet paint leftover after painting a ceiling, wall or woodwork there are a few tricks that you can use to absorb and dry out the wet paint so it dries quicker than simply leaving the lid off the can. This means that you can then dispose of the paint in your standard black bin.

One is to pour the paint onto newspaper or cardboard and leave to dry. Once dry, simply put it in your household bin. If you have a lot of paint you can pour into a few small cardboard boxes and leave it to dry out.

Another option is to add sand, sawdust or even cat litter to the paint tin and leave to dry. These will absorb the paint and speed up the drying process.  These methods work for both oil-based paint and water-based paint.

Can I put paint down the sink or a drain? 

The answer to this is no. The paint can cause blockages in the pipework, which can lead to all sorts of plumbing issues, not to mention polluting the water supply and the environment. Water-based paints in very small amounts are OK i.e. when you are cleaning paint brushes, rollers and paint kettles but even that isn't ideal for your plumbing system and should be avoided where possible.

And when it comes to oil-based paint, the problem with just tossing it down the sink is amplified as it doesn’t mix with water. Specialist solvents should never be poured down the sink or drains either as they are harmful for both the environment and will again pollute the water supply.

Can I put empty paint tins in my recycling bin? 

First you will need to check that any paint tin or container is recyclable. Most paint tins are metal or plastic and are recyclable however, if there is any significant amount of paint left inside it this should be placed in your regular household waste bin (if it is dry).

You could also choose to keep the empty containers and use them as makeshift paint kettles or containers for other DIY jobs. 

And as a finally point, make sure you know how to open a paint can properly, otherwise you could damage the lid. This may make the paint go off (see our guide on 'does emulsion paint go off') and will cause you to have to dispose of it earlier than you might have initially hoped – as well as the added expense of having to replenish it.

Steve Jenkins

Steve is Homebuilding & Renovating's DIY content editor, and has been a writer and editor for two decades. He is an avid DIYer with over 20 years of experience in transforming and renovating homes. He specialises in painting and decorating, but has strong all-round building skills, having previously worked in the industry for 10 years.