PaintCare is a stewardship program--that means they take the stuff back that you can no longer use. That's the gist of stewardship--a manufacturer makes it and then they take care of the remaining end product so consumers don't just throw it in the trash. If you live in one of the above states you can already do this with paint or you will soon be able to.
How it works is when you buy a can of paint, you pay a small additional fee to pay for the program. When you're done with your paint, you can return the unused portion to a collection point (such as a hardware store, your local recycling center or transfer station, or wherever makes sense in your area).
Currently, most people have no option but to put their paint in the trash. Where I live, there are household hazardous waste collections (I run some of them for my work) where people can bring their oil-based paints and other coatings. We don't take latex paint as it's REALLY expensive to handle hazardous waste, and latex is not considered hazardous because it's water-based. Don't get me wrong, you wouldn't want to drink the stuff, but if it can go in the regular trash (only after it's been dried out-see below), then that's where it will go. It costs about $45 to $60 per household to get rid of hazardous waste at our collections, and at collections held elsewhere it costs much more. So...we don't want to include latex paint as there's a lot of it out there.
The PaintCare program will take oil-based and latex paint. It's a good thing because more and more paints are latex.
There are also some local paint collection programs around the country. Some programs are year-round and just collect paint. People can pick up a can there or it gets sent off for re-manufacturing or to a waste-to-energy facility. These are often very informal programs.
Where Does the Paint Go?
Some of the paint collected by PaintCare will be remanufactured into more paint for consumers like you and me to purchase and use. Some paint will be sent off to be burned as a fuel. The ultimate goal is to remanufacture the paint, but it takes time to set up the structure to allow this to happen. Partners need to be found to perform the remanufacturing and marketing of the paint. PaintCare will work on this structure to provide the optimal use of our paint.
In Vermont where I live, the Chittenden Solid Waste District (near beautiful Lake Champlain--home of Champ, our very own Loch Ness Monster) produces a remanufactured latex paint called Local Color. I have visited this facility, and it's very cool. They filter and reblend unwanted latex paint making unique colors in batches. When they get a bunch of blue paint, they mix it together to make a special shade of blue. If you're going to paint the living room, you'd better make sure you buy enough of that shade as the next batch of blue might be slightly different. If you are picturing people in paint-spattered clothing pouring cans of paint into a large vat, you would be correct. It's a small operation, but it is such a great idea run by some forward thinking folks.
Keeping Latex Paint for Future Use
Leftover latex paint will last for years if you cover the can opening with plastic wrap, top with the lid, and make sure the lid (use its original container) fits securely so the paint doesn’t leak. Then, and here’s the key step: store the paint can upside down. The paint will create a tight seal around the lid, keeping the paint fresh until you need it again. Store the paint where it will not freeze. If stored correctly, paint stays in good condition for a long time. If it mixes smoothly, it can still be used. Use leftover paint for touch-up jobs, smaller projects, or as a primer.
Drying Out Latex Paint for Disposal
If you can't use your latex paint or donate it, and you don't have a paint collection in your area, just dry out the paint and throw it in the trash. Here's how to do this:
Let it dry in a safe location away from children and pets. Less than a half inch of paint will dry out easily when the lid is off. Larger volumes can be dried with absorbent material such as kitty litter, shredded paper, or sawdust. Once it’s dry, dispose of the dried out latex paint as garbage. If you end up with empty, dry metal cans, you should be able to recycle these with scrap metal at your local facility--or you might think of an artistic use for them.