How to Dispose of Paint Cans (Best Way for Every Type)

plastic paint can and two metal paint cans with paint splashing in the backdropplastic paint can and two metal paint cans with paint splashing in the backdrop

Anyone Can Do It!

When considering how to dispose of paint cans, recycling might seem like a no-brainer, but there are vital steps a paint can owner needs to take prior to giving them a second life. From identifying whether your can is made of recyclable material to safely emptying out the contents of your paint can, making conscious decisions at every stage of the disposal process allows for effective and safe waste management. Learn how to dispose of paint cans with the following best practices!

Is Your Paint Can Recyclable?

The determining factors in deciding how to dispose of paint cans are their materials, any additional hazards (such as the aerosol in spray paint cans), as well as local recycling policies. Since most curbside recycling accepts mixed material items, it might seem unnecessary to delve into the recyclability of individual paint cans. However, assuming that all paint cans are recyclable and not sorting recycling can increase processing costs for recycling plants. Informed recycling is easy and requires minimal knowledge of plastic and metal types. The same can be applied to paint can lids and other additional parts of the can. 

Check Your Local Policies for Plastic & Metal Recycling!

It’s always a good idea to check your local policies for plastic and metal recycling to avoid contaminating your community. To combat careless recyclers, certain states are beginning to implement fines for improper recycling; avoid getting fined by doing your research beforehand. 

Types of Paint Cans

In addition to ranging in size, paint cans are differentiated by the materials they are made of. There are four common styles of paint can. (Spray paint cans are recycled as aerosol containers.)

Plastic Paint Cans

Plastic paint cans are usually molded from recycled polypropylene (PP). This can be verified by checking the Resin Identification Code (RIC), most often located on the bottom of the can. The RIC for polypropylene is featured on the right. 

Decoding the RIC will help you understand which types of plastics can be recycled and determine whether your plastic paint can is easily disposable or requires a special recycling plant. Polypropylene is typically recyclable curbside, but it is always a good idea to check with your municipality’s regulations. 

PP Resin Identification CodePP Resin Identification Code
plastic paint canplastic paint can

Metal Paint Cans

Metal paint cans are often made out of tin or tin-coated steel, which is recyclable. Almost all metals are easily recyclable, and those which are not would not be found in a typical paint can. Rusty metal paint cans can be recycled since the rust can be removed.

Many paint cans provide anti-rust coatings known as linings. Your metal paint can may have a Gold Phenolic or Gray Epoxy Phenolic lining. Both are fully recyclable.

You may decide to make a profit by turning your paint cans directly into a scrapyard instead of tossing them in your closest recycling bin. Most scrapyards pay by the pound, so bringing in larger quantities of metal paint cans will work in your favor. If your paint cans are made of non-ferrous metals like tin or aluminum, they are more valuable than those made out of ferrous metals, like steel. An easy way to test whether your paint cans are non-ferrous or ferrous is to attempt to stick a magnet to them; magnets stick to ferrous metals. Regardless, a scrapyard will ensure that all metal types are recycled properly. 

metal paint canmetal paint can

Hybrid Paint Cans

Hybrid paint cans are made with 100% recycled materials and are completely recyclable. The body of the paint can is made of regrind polypropylene (PP) with an epoxy lined metal ring and metal lid. Hybrid paint cans can generally be recycled curbside in mixed-material bins. If a recycling facility calls for material segregation, it should be possible to remove the metal ring from the plastic body using pliers. Remember to wear eye-protection.

hybrid paint canhybrid paint can

Art Style Paint Cans/Clear Paint Cans

Art style paint cans, also known as clear paint cans, have a clear body made of polyethylene terephthalate (PET or PETE) with a metal top, bottom, ears, and handle. PET can typically be recycled curbside. Art style paint cans are primarily used for crafts and are not designed for food and liquid storage. For these reasons, these paint cans would not store paint in the way a typical paint can does, but it may be decorated with paint. It is necessary to take extra care to clean a craft can prior to recycling. Glitter, styrofoam, and other craft supplies are generally not recyclable. Similar to hybrid paint cans, art style paints cans should be recycled in mixed-material bins unless they can be separated by material.

art style paint canart style paint can

Spray Paint Cans

The average spray paint can owner should approach recycling their paint cans very carefully. Improper handling of aerosol can lead to combustion and pollute the air with harmful chemicals. It is best to make sure your spray paint can is empty by spraying a piece of cardboard or alike. Having emptied the can of paint, reference your local policies to find where your community accepts aerosol cans. Never depressurize, puncture, flatten, and crush the can or remove the nozzle yourself. 

Knowledgeable, well-informed spray paint can owners may be equipped to use an aerosol can disposal system to safely depressurize aerosol cans for recycling or scrap metal disposal. To maintain the safe operation of these disposal systems, users should take care to replace filters and upkeep maintenance.

Is Your Paint Hazardous?

Before you empty your paint can, determining whether your paint, stain, or varnish is a household hazardous waste item will give you a better idea of how to empty your can and safely dispose of its contents. Carefully read the labels on your paint can to determine what type of paint or stain you are in possession of as well as what warnings the product comes with.

Paint Hazard Level & Disposal

Type of Paint/Stains Common Applications Hazardous? Reason for Hazard How to Dispose
Oil-Based Bathrooms, kitchens, cabinets & furniture Yes Highly flammable, most likely to contain hazardous heavy metals like lead Turn in to a Household Hazardous Waste Facility
Water-based/ Latex Drywall, stucco, concrete, aluminum siding Yes, in liquid form Toxic to aquatic organisms, can pollute water supply in large quantities Allow the paint to dry & harden, then dispose in regular trash.

Canvas, paper, wood, leather, paper mache, fabric, cement, glass, brick, pottery

No   Allow the paint to dry & harden, then dispose in regular trash
Varnish Coating for wood, paintings, decorative objects Yes Flammable Turn in to a Household Hazardous Waste Facility

Paint with Mercury

Illegal in the USA since 1991 Yes Health risk Turn in to a Household Hazardous Waste Facility
Paint with Lead Illegal in the USA since 1978 Yes Health risk Turn in to a Household Hazardous Waste Facility

Check Your Local Policies for Paint Disposal!

It’s always a good idea to research your local policies on paint disposal and recycling to avoid getting fined for improper disposal. Some communities no longer collect paint remains with low toxicity levels and high costs of disposal, allowing you to throw them out with the trash. Certain state regulations may be more or less strict than the general chart above. Doing your research will also help you determine whether your state has paint take-back programs.

4 Best Practices for Emptying your Paint Can

It is important to empty your paint can before recycling since certain paints can contaminate your community if not handled properly. Additionally, recycling unclean products makes them unusable. 

1. Never Pour Paint Down the Sink

Avoid pouring paint down the sink, even if non-toxic, because it can harden in the pipes. Do not pour hazardous paint down the sink or drains as it can contaminate waterways.

2. Always Dry Unwanted Leftover Paint

There are several ways to allow your leftover paint to dry or harden prior to disposal. For small amounts of paint, leave the lid off of the paint can and let it air dry. For bigger amounts of paint, mix the paint with cat litter, sawdust, sand, paint hardener, spill absorbent, or even finely cut paper. Wait until the paint has soaked into the thickening substance and is no longer wet to the touch.

3. Give Away Excess Leftover Paint

Check if local places take paint donations: schools, charities, non-profits, places of faith, etc. Ask neighbors and friends.

4. Minimize the Mess & Contamination

When turning paint in to a Household Hazardous Waste Facility, keep the paint in its original container to avoid spreading contamination. Additionally, closing your paint can properly will prevent messes and waste of product. Take the time to look into how to close a paint can.

Reuse - Give Your Paint Cans a Second Life!

If you are less set on determining how to dispose of paint cans than you are finding a better purpose for them, upcycling might be for you! There are many ways you can incorporate an upcycled paint can into your studio or home, such as making a lantern, centerpiece, holiday craft, and more!

For more ideas on how to reuse and upcycle your paint can, check out our Paint Can Crafts Pinterest Board!

Why Safe Paint Can Disposal Matters to Us

Here at The Cary Company, we take pride in finding, providing, and promoting environmentally-friendly alternatives and solutions to your packaging and container needs. 

Looking to reorder paint cans in the future? Shop and compare the largest collection of paint cans online! Can’t find what you’re looking for? Call 630.629.6600 or email us at today!

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