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UK homes stockpiling 50 million tins of paint which could harm environment, scientists say

The Independent logo The Independent 07/01/2022 Zoe Tidman
Most UK homes have stockpile of leftover paint, survey finds - Getty Images/iStockphoto © Getty Images/iStockphoto

Most UK homes have stockpile of leftover paint, survey finds

- Getty Images/iStockphoto

UK households are storing around 50 million litres of leftover paint, according to new estimates from scientists who have warned this could have a knock-on effect on the environment.

The Royal Society of Chemistry warned valuable chemicals inside paint - called polymers - were going to waste, after most respondents in a survey said they had unused or half-opened tins stashed away at home.

It also said nearly all spare paint ended up getting sent to landfill or burned - with only two per cent getting reused or recycled - and scientists have said this could be “damaging in the environment just like other polymers”.

The scientific body surveyed thousands of UK households on how much leftover paint they had and found just under three-quarters of respondents had at least one.

Five per cent of the more than 4,300 households asked had more than 10 tins of spare paint.

The Society estimated 50 million tins of paint were being stored across all UK households. It said this was enough to paint the metal on Tower Bridge more than 2,300 times.

It called for better recycling opportunities to reduce waste and keep the valuable chemicals in circulation. But it warned the public faced a “postcode lottery” over whether paint could be recycled locally.

“It has to actually almost be easier to recycle than it is to chuck out,” Professor Tom Welton, the president of the Royal Society of Chemistry, told The Independent.

It comes after lockdown saw a boost in sales for paint - as well as other DIY equipment - as people were forced to stay at home amid the Covid pandemic.


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Prof Welton said people buying more paint than they need could be damaging, with the survey finding unused paint nearly always ends up getting thrown away.

Just like many other products, paint contains polymers, which helps it stick to walls - but it comes in liquid form rather than the polymers found in plastic bags and packaging.

“We don't realise that chucking that away indiscriminately is just the same as chucking away a plastic bag indiscriminately,” Prof Welton told The Independent.

The fear is the polymers could end up entering the water system or the food chain, he said.

Prof Welton said: “These can be damaging in the environment just like other polymers. They just happen to be in a can.”

The British Coatings Federation, a trade industry body, said it had set a goal to grow paint recycling from two per cent to 75 per cent by 2030.

Campaign group Recycling Now says local household waste recycling centres may have a dedicated space where paint can be donated. If not, it advises people to take unwanted paint to a local Community Repaint scheme, which will then redistribute it.

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