The carbon impact case for increasing reuse and remanufacturing of leftover paint

When the British Coatings Federation (BCF) developed the Resource Efficiency Action Plan for decorative paint in 2015, it was estimated only 2% of leftover paint in the UK was recycled or remanufactured. The 98% that is landfilled or incinerated is seen as a major environmental issue for the industry that must be tackled.

The BCF’s PaintCare initiative aims to create a circular economy for leftover decorative paint in the UK. It is exploring ways to create a voluntary system for investing in the best environmental treatment options for the 55 million litres a year of leftover paint produced in the UK each year. It aims to reach at least 75% reuse, remanufacture and recycling of leftover paint by 2030.

The BCF sought Resource Futures’ expertise on carbon and life cycle analysis (LCA) modelling, and on-the-ground paint reuse, to understand which treatment options have the greatest environmental benefit.


Combining our in-house carbon and LCA modelling expertise, and experience of managing the Community Repaint network since 1993, our aim was to provide a detailed and up-to-date comparator model of options and recommendations for action. Such a model will enable the BCF to make the case for investment and support the industry in adopting low-carbon solutions via circular economy principles.


Eight treatment options were modelled for leftover paint and associated container packaging, in addition to the current landfill and incineration business as usual (BAU) treatment scenarios.

Calling on case studies, practitioner experiences and data from the BCF, the impacts of changing paint container materials and treatment were also modelled.

The lifecycle-based carbon emissions from leftover paint treatment options were calculated in accordance with ISO 14040 and 14044 standards. This ensured impacts at all stages of the paint lifecycle were accounted for. This included raw material acquisition, virgin production, logistics and use to disposal.

Primary data was gathered through stakeholder interviews and desk-based research was conducted to find appropriate secondary data.

A bespoke model was developed, with carbon emissions calculated as kg CO2e emission per tonne of paint to enable comparison. The overall climate impact from the different leftover paint treatment options was estimated as net carbon impact. This included looking at potential direct and embodied carbon emissions and indirect downstream carbon savings through reuse or recycling practices.

“The level of detail, quality of the modelling and responsiveness to queries was beyond expectations and made it easy for us to keep track of progress and data needs.”

Stephen Snaith, Non-Executive Director at the British Coatings Federation


The current practice of incineration of solvent and water-based paint contributes to the highest carbon emissions. Reuse of leftover-solvent-based paint in the UK is the most appropriate treatment with a possibility of reducing carbon by over 6,300 kgCO2e/tonne of leftover solvent-based paint.

If half of the 55 million litres of the UK’s leftover water-based paint was collected and reused or remanufactured (0% virgin content), and displaced use of virgin paint, this would result in approximately 96,000 tonnes of avoided CO2 emissions each year.

Incinerating one tonne of plastic paint containers – the usual practice of plastic paint container disposal – would emit over 1,600 kgCO2e. Recycling both metal and plastic paint containers, and using recycled content in plastic containers, helps to significantly reduce the emissions associated with virgin metal and polymer production and manufacturing.

If 10% of plastic in the 111 million 1l to 25l new paint containers used in the UK could be made from 100% recycled plastic paint containers, nearly 4,500 tonnes of CO2e could be saved each year.




The findings provide tangible evidence that can be used to inform policy and decision-making for the Paintcare initiative. They contribute to the UK’s net zero aspirations through the advocacy of remanufacturing, reuse and recycling of leftover paint and recycling of paint containers for maximum resource recovery.

The results can support better decision making for a wide range of stakeholders: helping local authorities encourage best practice in leftover paint disposal and paint remanufacturing organisations to maximise and expand existing capacity to avoid leftover paint going to landfill or incineration. Furthermore, the modelling of paint container treatment could support the case for increased recycled content in paint containers resulting in virgin material resource savings.

“Resource Futures’ long-term experience of working with leftover paint and the paint manufacturing industry, coupled with the world recognised carbon/LCA expertise of Dr Menikpura, assures us that the results are robust, enabling us to make the right call on priority options for Paintcare.”

Tom Bowtell, CEO at the British Coatings Federation 

Project Information

Services involved

Circular Economy


Data and Tools

Team involved

Ann Stevenson
Circular Economy Lead

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