Paint Party Waste and the Effect on the Environment

Summary

I have done 2 years of research involving hours and hours of online searches, emailing environmental companies and calling waste water facilities to discover the impact of acrylic paint and waste water disposal on the environment. The more I dug, the more I found a lack of scientifically reliable information and a lot of conflicting and controversial opinions and information. I am not a scientist, but I read everything that I could get my hands on so that I could make an informed decision about how I disposed of paint and paint water waste to ensure I don’t contribute negatively on the environment. I can’t say that I found definitive answer on the effects of acrylic paint on the environment or that I am positive that my chosen disposal method is the best or necessary one, but I can tell you that after all my hours of research I was not comfortable pouring the paint water down the drain or into the ground and I didn’t feel comfortable throwing away gobs of unused paint into the garbage to go to the landfill.

Conclusion

Regardless of the lack of information that I found, I started on a path of several months of experimentation in my garage to implement a system that would efficiently process all the waste water I created before disposal. I also started using reusable supplies more often and looking into faster and easier ways of getting them clean. In the end I decided that I would contain all my waste water, which includes the water you dump out at a party, the water in the buckets that I use to soak my cloths and the water I use to soak and wash the brushes and plates in. I save it all up in a big bucket and after each party I do a chemical process called coagulation and flocculation to separate all the paint out of the water. Then I filter the water through a lined sieve, dump the clear water down the drain and put the left-over paint sludge into a coffee can to dry out. I filter out over 3 cups of paint sludge from the waste water of 30 painters. In September had almost 5 gallons of left over paint sludge.

If you decide to continue reading, what follows is an overview of my journey of how I came to this decision. At the end for my story, if you are interested even further, I will provided a link to a summary of the facts that I collected that lead me to my decision along with the links to where I gathered the information (coming soon). If you stop reading here, I am just glad that you took the time read this far and find out that Painting on the Prairies is committed to be the most environmentally friendly paint party provider possible. When it comes down to it, I would rather err on the side of caution and do my part now, then find out in a hundred years that the accumulation of acrylic paint disposal has had some unseen dire effect on the environment for future generations. It is in my humble opinion that there is a lack of information on this subject and the information that is available is vague, contradictory and incomplete. More research is needed in order to understand the environmental impact acrylic paint might have but based on the information that I collected over the last 2 years I am not convinced that acrylic paint will prove to have no impact if that research becomes available.

 

Introduction

Shortly after Painting on the Prairies began to take off I became concerned with two aspects of the business that I thought impacted the environment: the amount of garbage created by cups, plates and paper towels and how the paint water waste might affect our water sewer systems and our water and soil. Very quickly I decided to purchase reusable cups, plates and towels so that they could be washed and reused to cut down on the amount of garbage created. I also began a two-year long research project into how acrylic paint and acrylic paint waste water affects the environment.

Unfortunately, the time commitment of washing all those dishes became huge as I got busier and busier and didn’t have enough time to get the dishes from larger parties done before the next one. So, I was forced to go back to disposable supplies for bigger parties but tried to continue to use the reusable supplies for smaller ones. Around the same time that I made this decision I had begun to find information that indicated that it was indeed not a good idea to be pouring large amounts of paint water down the drain, especially not in the ground, and that throwing it in the garbage as solid waste was a much better alternative. So maybe the disposable supplies was the lesser of two evils.

The more I researched the more complicated the whole situation became. To dispose of completely dried out paint is best, but how do I get all that paint to dry from all those plates before throwing in them in the trash when I am a mobile company? Pouring acrylic water down the drain is not a best practice but if it is part of a public sewer system you can get away with it in small quantities and, it seems, the water treatment facility can take care of filtering it. It is the quantity that can create a problem for sewer lines and water treatment facilities and I make a lot paint waste water. Then there is the fact that there is so much conflicting information on the internet about how acrylic paint and waste water actually affects the environment and a very large absence of any real scientifically reliable data.

My Research Process

I began my research on the environmental impacts of acrylic paint and the resulting waste near the end of 2015. I found very quickly that there are just as many people who say dumping the water down the drain is not problem as there are who say that you should filter it before you do so. I found that most information stated that acrylic paint was more environmentally friendly because it was water based. I found that the consensus was to let left over acrylic paint dry out before throwing it away. But the further I research the more I came to feel like no one really knows for sure about how disposal methods of acrylic paint might affect the environment because no one has ever done any real research and experimentation on it.

I finally came across some Youtube videos and some step-by-step instructions on a couple websites (including acrylic paint company Golden Acrylic) that had a process for separating the acrylic paint from the water before filtering it and disposing of the water. Then you let the left-over paint sludge dry out before throwing it out. Once I stumbled upon this method I found it is a pretty common practice among environmentally friendly or concerned artists. The reasoning behind doing this is because even though acrylic paint is water based and (most student brands) are non-toxic, the reality is they are still made from an acrylic polymer emulsion which is basically plastic. The Winnipeg Water and Waste Department confirmed for me that, while the treatment facility can treat this water when it reaches the plant, large quantities of it can build up to block sewer lines and complicate the filtering processes. Not to mention that plastic pollution is one of the biggest concerns of environmentalist today and pouring liquid plastic into the ground could contaminate water and soil, right? Surprisingly there is very little information available on this. Upon reading the Material Safety Data Sheets of a number of common student acrylic paints I found a wide discrepancy and lack of information in the environmental and disposal sections among them. My overall interpretation of the accumulated information was that they are not considered harmful to the environment but that you should not allow it to enter the ground, waterways or drains and should dispose of it in accordance to local laws or regulations. Also, while they say it is not environmentally harmful there is “no data available” when you get to the specifics of how it affects water, soil, plants and animals. Many hours of Google searches didn’t get me any closer to more reliable information or a definite answer. The only other information that gave me a push in the direction I had already decided to go was that septic field guides said not to pour acrylic paint waste water into them because it upsets the biology and chemistry in them (I was planning to move to the country with a septic field and was concerned) and that most environmental processing facilities recommend letting all acrylic paint waste dry out before disposal.

Conclusion

Regardless of the lack of and contradictory nature of the information I found, I started on a path of several months of experimentation in my garage to implement a system that would efficiently process all of the waste water I created before disposal. I also started using my reusable supplies more often and looking into faster and easier ways of getting them clean. In the end I decided that I would contain all my waste water which includes the water you dump out at a party, the water in the buckets that I use to soak my cloths and the water I use to soak and wash the brushes and plates in. I save it all up in a big bucket and after each party I do a chemical process called coagulation and flocculation to separate all the paint out of the water. Then I filter the water through a lined sieve, dump the clear water down the drain and put the left-over paint sludge into a coffee can to dry out. I filter out over 3 cups of paint sludge from the waste water of 30 people. In September had almost 5 gallons of left over paint sludge.

As I mentioned in the summary and conclusion at the top of this article, I am not a scientist and I do not have a definitive answer on if and how acrylic paint disposal affects the environment but I am not comfortable with dumping it down the drain or in the ground after the hours of information I have accumulated. When it comes down to it, I would rather err on the side of caution and do my part now, then find out in a hundred years that the accumulation of acrylic paint disposal has had some unseen dire effect on the environment for future generations. It is in my humble opinion that there is a lack of information on this subject and the information that is available is vague, contradictory and incomplete. More research is needed in order to understand the environmental impact acrylic paint might have but based on the information that I collected over the last 2 years I am not convinced that acrylic paint will prove to have no impact if that research becomes available.

I have kept track of all the information that I have read and collected that led me to this decision and have many facts and findings to list that I feel support my position. My next project it to summarize those facts in point form, with corresponding links to where I found the information, in a logical manner that leads you down the path that I took in coming to my conclusion.

Happy Paint Partying!

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