Paints & coatings

Many paints and coatings are dangerous waste when they are disposed of. These include solvent-based or water-based paints, thinners and solvents, and paint booth filters.

Find testing tips and help with handling these wastes.

Is your paint or coating waste dangerous?

Many paints and other coatings are dangerous waste. These include:

  • Solvent-based or water-based paints
  • Thinners and solvents
  • Paint booth filters

Solvent-based coatings

Most solvent-based paint and coating wastes are dangerous because they are ignitable or contain toxic chemicals and heavy metals.

Water-based coatings

Water-based paints and coatings are less likely to designate as dangerous waste. Some designate as dangerous because the product mixture contains toxic ingredients.

Check your Safety Data Sheets for any ingredients in the paint that would make it designate as dangerous waste.

Thinners and solvents

Thinners and solvents used in paint preparation, painting, spray guns, or cleanup are usually dangerous waste. They usually designate as listed, ignitable, or dangerous waste. Acetone, toluene, xylene, and MEK (methyl ethyl ketone) are common examples.

Some waste solvents and paint thinners can be recycled, either on site or at a recycling facility. Recycling can save you product and disposal costs. If you are using a still, handle and dispose the still bottoms as dangerous waste.

Paint booth filters

Paint-booth filters are often dangerous waste. Toxic metals, such as cadmium, chromium, and lead in paint pigments or other coatings may end up in your filters. Some filters have halogenated organic compounds (HOCs) that designate as dangerous. If the paint has HOCs, the filter may also have HOCs and designate as dangerous.

Testing paint booth filters

Test your filters when it is time to change them. During an inspection, you may have to show a report proving your filters are not dangerous waste. Here's how:

  • Cut a one-foot square piece from the dirtiest part of the filter or bank of filters. Seal it in a plastic bag. Protect yourself from hazardous dusts during this process.
  • Send the filter sample to a state certified lab.
    • Request SW-846 Method 9023, for halogenated organic compounds
    • Request SW-846 Method 1311, Toxicity Characteristic Leaching Procedure (TCLP) for metals if you suspect your primer contains lead, chromium, or cadmium. Check the safety-data-sheets or talk to your paint manufacturer if you are unsure.
  • Keep a copy of the lab report.

If your lab results show that the filters aren’t dangerous waste, you may throw them in the garbage. If they are dangerous, you must follow all dangerous waste rules.

Reduce your paint and coating waste

Reducing paint waste is better for the environment and can save you money on product and disposal costs.

Learn more about pollution prevention or get help from a toxics reduction specialist.

Tips for your facility

Here is a list of tips that may be useful in your painting or coating facility:

  • Buy only as much paint as you need.
  • Mix and use the least amount of coating possible. Mix only what you will use.
  • Give leftover paint to customers for touch-ups.
  • Return unused paint to the manufacturer if it is not past the expiration date. It may be possible to sell it through an industrial materials exchange service, as well.
  • If possible, reduce the number of different coatings and colors you use.
  • Use water-borne primers and stay informed about new developments in water-based top coats.
  • Use optimum gun settings and spray tips for each job.
  • Where possible, choose thin coatings using heat rather than solvents.
  • Use disposable liners for paint containers and spray gun cups. Disposing of liners creates less waste than disposing of rinsing material.
  • Schedule jobs in batches to reduce number of cleanups.

Designating paint

It's important to understand the characteristics of dangerous paint and properly code them. Knowing the type of paint you have can make you and your employees more aware of the dangers around them. Here are some common waste codes for the following paints:

  • Oil-based or solvent-based (used or expired): ignitable, toxic. Waste code: D001. Some paints will also require Toxicity Characteristic Leaching Procedure (TCLP) due to heavy metals.
Find more information on designation.