The inappropriate disposal of paint into drains and waterways, and through leaching in landfills, is the main environmental concern driving the collection of post-consumer paint. Paint in waterways can have negative effects on aquatic life. Growing levels of spills and pollution incidents through inappropriate disposal have driven councils to implement paint collection programmes alongside collections of other wastes considered hazardous to the environment.
In the Auckland region, for example, the number of pollution incidents involving paint has resulted in the dedication of significant resource, and therefore cost, to investigation and enforcement action. In the period 2003 to 2005, there were 294 complaints about paint pollution logged and investigated by the Auckland Regional Council [Rowan Carter, Pollution Control Team Leader, ARC pers. comm.] . This figure represents more than 8% of the total 3,670 pollution complaints received by the Council over that period.
Water-borne paint is considered to be less of an environmental concern than solvent based paint. There is a strong shift in paint manufacture away from solvent based paints to water-based paints. Some issues with the disposal of older paint that may contain more toxic substances (eg lead) still exist, but these are diminishing as legacy volumes decline.
The disposal of paint packaging does represent a significant waste of resources. There is an avoided resource burden through the recycling of steel and plastic packaging waste. It is estimated that 25% of materials associated with post-consumer paint is steel and a further 6%, plastic. Both of these materials are potentially recyclable (although the plastics reprocessing industry considers paint-covered plastic too contaminated as it is difficult to handle and recycle).
There is little detailed information worldwide on the environmental impacts of the disposal of waste paint. Research and sector-wide consultation has not revealed any useful sources of information to enable a quantifiable assessment of environmental impacts.