Statewide paint recycling to come in 2025: What to do with your leftover paint until then

An estimated 10% of all building paint goes unused in the U.S. each year — equal to more than 750 million gallons left to gather dust in storage, according to the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

Where does all that leftover paint go?

The most common household paint, latex paint, has a very low level of toxicity, but properly disposing of it can be difficult because it can't be thrown away while still wet. With the passage of a recent state law, paint recycling will be accessible across Illinois under a program that will open hundreds of drop-off locations statewide, but that initiative isn't expected to go into place until early 2025.

Until then, the Illinois EPA recommends alternatives to disposal like storing the paint for future touch-ups, or giving the paint to a friend or neighbor.

That's because while oil-based paint is accepted at state-sponsored household hazardous waste collection events, latex paint is not.

For those looking to safely throw their latex paint away, the agency recommends using absorbent material to dry the paint out.

“Kitty litter, sawdust, shredded paper or just about anything else that will absorb moisture and let the paint dry out should work here,” the agency state on its website. “Depending on how full the can is, you can just add the absorbent to the can and mix it up. When the liquids are absorbed, dry the mixture out or dispose of it directly. You may be able to empty the can, dry it out, and recycle it.”

The creation of the upcoming statewide recycling initiative, which will be run by nonprofit PaintCare, was signed into law July 28. The legislation was sponsored by state Sen. Linda Holmes, an Aurora Democrat.

“It is exciting to offer this service to Illinoisans with old paint taking up space in their homes,” Holmes said in a news release. “Consumers will now have an opportunity to declutter their homes of old paint and feel confident that their waste is being recycled and disposed of in an environmentally sustainable way.”

PaintCare is a product responsibility organization, which means it's managed by paint manufacturers like Sherman Williams. The nonprofit operates in 10 other states, including California, New York and Minnesota.

While residents will be able to drop off their paint at no cost, the program will be funded by fees tacked onto sales of new building paint within the state. Those paints include interior and exterior paints, primers, sealers and stains, but not specialty paints like car and boat paint.

What that fee will be has yet to be determined, though in other states it ranges from 65 cents to 99 cents per gallon purchased.

The majority of the drop-off locations will be retailers like paint and hardware stores. The program also will offer free pickups for paint collections greater than 100 gallons.

PaintCare is in the process of creating a proposal, which will be submitted to the state EPA for approval.

Brett Rodgers, the director of communications for PaintCare, said a large part of building the program's infrastructure will be recruiting retailers that want to participate by offering a collection bin.

“A lot of retailers just also want to do the right thing and want to make sure there's good environmental options,” Rodgers said. “I think that's become a big trend. In all of America now, folks are wanting to not just throw stuff away but find better uses for it. It's just a matter of getting the word out to those retailers.”

As the statewide program begins to take shape, one Wood Dale nonprofit has been offering local paint recycling for a decade.

Before Chris McCarthy founded EarthPaint in 2013, he was working in real estate, where he saw heaps of unwanted paint go to waste. He knew there was a way to reuse the material.

“From an environmental standpoint, we really have made an impact. Paint is a very heavy and expensive product to move around the country,” McCarthy said. “There's a very significant, almost detrimental carbon footprint with the entire process of manufacturing and shipping paint. We circumvent that by picking up the product, eliminating the transportation, mixing the product together.”

As a nonprofit, EarthPaint relies on recycling fees to fund its operations and employment. The organization charges $5.99 to recycle one gallon of latex paint. It also sells the end product at between $15 and $25 a gallon.

As Halloween approaches, the organization also is running a decoration raffle to further support its efforts.

McCarthy added the contributions that customers make by recycling and purchasing paint is vital to EarthPaint's mission of employing adults with disabilities.

“Being a nonprofit is extremely important to us, because we are doing our best to try and create as much opportunity for people that are struggling in the workplace because of their disability,” he said. “That's why we are called 'paint with purpose,' because every can that comes to us is an opportunity for us to give someone a chance.”

EarthPaint operates across the Chicago region by partnering with more than 150 drop-off locations, primarily Ace Hardware and True Value stores.

• Jenny Whidden,, is a climate change and environment writer working with the Daily Herald through a partnership with Report For America supported by The Nature Conservancy. To help support her work with a tax-deductible donation, see

  Matt Molenkamp says these shoes were new just a few weeks ago but are covered in layers of paint from work in EarthPaint in Wood Dale. John Starks/
  These large containers of recycled paint are stacked to the ceiling, waiting to be shipped to Africa from EarthPaint in Wood Dale. John Starks/
  Matt Molenkamp poses with 5-gallon buckets of paint waiting to be shipped from EarthPaint in Wood Dale. John Starks/
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