Paints can ready to take the rubbish tip

How to recycle or dispose of old tins of paint in the correct (and legal) way

The aftermath of any DIY painting project is usually what to do with leftover tins of paint.

Whilst it may seem a load of hassle and effort to get rid of old paint but actually it’s easier than you think, and hopefully our brief guide will help you.

Tins of leftover paint cannot be put into your normal household rubbish bins, nor can old paint be poured down the drain, so how do you get rid of old paint without harming the environment or breaking the law?

This handy guide shows you the correct way to get rid of paint, with relevant links at the end of the article where you can locate your nearest council recycling centre.

We have included handy information not only for users in the UK, but also there is advice for readers in Canada, the US and Australia at the foot of the page.

How to safely dispose or recycle tins of your old paint.


Old cans of paint


There are 2 ways to do this, and explained briefly, you can dispose of them yourself (the cheapest and preferred way) or you can PAY a company to get rid of the redundant cans of paint for you.

There are many specialist paint disposal companies who can do this, however it is only cost effective when you have a very large amount of paint, for example, left over from a huge building that was renovated.

Unless you are in the decorating trade yourself, let’s just look at how private home owners like you can solve the problem of old, leftover paint cans and have a clean conscience afterwards..

The above is of course also true of surplus paint you may have kept in your shed or garage, (with the intention of painting another part of the home at some point), but you may get a shock when you open the can after a year or so on the shelf!

Whilst helping clear out a shed recently, we came across a load of old tins of paint.

Old tins of paint on a dusty shelf

Me being me (!) and someone who is obsessed with painting houses (Really, no, you don’t say….) I went into geek mode and explained to him why he couldn’t use the leftover bits to do some touching up on a previous painted wall.

(He is such a miser, he never wants to spend money), but I had to explain to him why he had to chuck them away, and how he had to go about doing that.

There’s a right way to do it, and a wrong way.

Don’t get it wrong….

The thing that made it even more ridiculous was that he rather foolishly bought some cans of paint from his local car boot sale down the road, despite me telling him not to!

What happens to cans of paint left on the shelf for years?

Paint that you would buy in any shop, has a shelf life or sell by date, although the big paint companies don’t tell you that, probably so they can get rid of old unsold stock perhaps?

Paint is made up of a mixture of various ingredients, such as pigments, dyes, binder, emulsifiers and WATER. Yep, that cheap paint you bought is coloured water.

It can only exist in that state for a certain length of time.

The process of the various constituent parts start to separate slowly, even once it arrives on the shelf at the local paint store.

This is why you are told to vigorously shake the can before opening!

Once the can is opened, it starts to speed up the separation and even if you securely shut the lid back on tightly, over time it will carry on separating, to point where no matter how much you shake it, the damage is done and the paint must be thrown away.

Thinking of buying paint from a discount store?

Those heavily discounted tins of paint, as we mentioned above, have a shelf life, just like food, so when you paint with them, you will end up paying MORE and you will need twice the amount of paint than if you had gone to a reputable hardware store.

Discount shops sell end of line paints, often way past their use by date so take note, you could be throwing your money away

This photo clearly shows what happens when old part used paints are left for around 2 years with the lid firmly closed.


Solvent separating in old paint

As you can see the paint has solidified and the liquids in the paint have separated.

This is the end of the line for this can.

To ensure you don’t have any leftover paint on future decorating projects use of the many paint calculators you find online.

You can work out how much paint to buy so you minimise the risk of having leftover paint you cannot use.

How do I find out where to take my old paint cans?

It’s surprisingly easy, although there are limitations on what some recycling centres accept.

Paints can ready to take the rubbish tip
These old tins of paint are now ready to take to the local recycling centre.

For customers in England and Wales, you can search for your nearest waste disposal centre here

For customers in Scotland, this site will help you locate a recycling centre

For readers in USA and Canada, contact your local state authority who will be able to put you in contact with a local Hazardous waste recycling center.

For readers in Australia, contact your local Paintback® centre.

It’s also worth noting that if you have some unopened cans of paint, provided they are less than a year old, why not consider donating them to a needy cause?

These could include schools, voluntary centres, scout groups, youth groups and so on, meaning the paint that can still be used, can be put to a good cause and used as it should be.

To paint stuff.

If you live in the UK and don’t know anyone that you can pass the paint on to, it is worth checking out the community repaint scheme

It is also worth mentioning that some recycling centres won’t accept liquid paint and require you to add sawdust to solidify it before they will accept it, and some only accept metal cans, not plastic ones, so check the regulations with your local centre before setting out.

Remember also that paint in most cases, cannot be carried on public transport so you will have to drive to your nearest centre.

If that sounds like hassle, chuck them down the drain, yes?

NO! OMG, don’t ever do that.

Our drains are meant for WATER, you should never ever pour the contents of an old paint can down the drain.

Our rainwater drains lead eventually to our streams and rivers and eventually the sea, so anything poured down there will eventually POISON something, plant life or aquatic life, so never ever ever pour paint down the drain!

Seriously. DON’T.

So, with that borne in mind, how do you get rid of part used and nearly empty paint cans without harming the environment, or breaking the law?

The environment is something that has only been thought of as essential to protect, over the past few decades and it’s the duty of all of us to protect what we have.

It is essential to dispose of old paint in the correct way.

The World Wildlife fund published a campaign to highlight the problem of people pouring paint into the drains a few years ago. This image makes you think.

Look after our world and don’t pour paint down the drains

I hope that you have found this article useful, please do us a huge favour and share it on social media with your friends. Thank you!


PS. all images are original and copyright NPA 2018. We accept no responsibility for external sites accessed through this page.

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