Hold The Micro-Plastics, Please
Updated: Feb 24
I cringe a little bit every time I wash my brushes and rinse out my brush-cleaning containers
because I know that I'm rinsing plastics down the drain. Don't get me started on the videos I sometimes see artists post on Instagram or TicTok that feature colourful, fully loaded paint brushes "beautifully" rinsing pigment down the drain under running water. Ugh. I'm sure you've heard about microplastic pollutants, and why they're a growing problem, so I'll spare you the lecture (if you'd like more information, put your research hat on). Because of this, I do my best to reduce the amount of paint that gets washed down the drain.
Here are my tips:
Reduce paint waste by being a little more conservative about how much paint you squeeze out. You can always add more if you need it. Keep tube and pot lids on tight to prevent premature drying of paints. Proper storage can go a long way. I have 20-year-old tubes of acrylic paint that are still in great condition!
Keep a sludge pot! I'll scrape any still-wet paint off my palette and into a muddy mix I call my sludge pot. Sometimes I use it to mix up new colours, and sometimes I'll use it for warm-up sketches.
Unload your brush completely before rinsing. I have piles and piles of papers that I've used to clean my brushes off before swishing them in my water. The water stays cleaner longer, less plastics, pigments and other nasties end up going down the drain, and I'm left with lots of lovely papers that I can use for collage experiments. I sometimes treat my brush cleaning paper as an abstract composition and enjoy taking little mini breaks from the painting I'm currently working on in order to decide how and where to unload my brush on the page.
Do you use a Sta-Wet Palette? Using a large metal palette knife, you can scrape 99% of old residual paint off the palette paper (add it to your sludge pot), give it a spray with water and wipe with a rag or paper towel. No need to throw your palette out - now you can use it again. Hot tip: if your Sta-Wet Palette is stinky, spray it with a mix of water and Peroxide. It works!
Allow your brush water to settle overnight so you can pour off the water and wipe out any settled solids with an old rag or paper towel before rinsing and refilling your container.
Some artists keep an acrylic waste bin for sludge and other acrylic product that may have "gone bad." When full, this can be disposed of at the recycling centre in the area specifically for paints.
Above left: One of my brush cleaning papers beside my Sta-Wet Palette. Right: Working on a collage composition using cut-up brush cleaning papers.
One thing I haven't tried is this nifty product by Golden called Crash Paint Solids Water Waste Kit, which seems to be unavailable in Canada. After you collect a bucket full of brush water and treat it with the Crash chemicals, the paint solids separate and can be filtered out of the water before disposal. Golden also shares how we can make our own kits to remove water-based paint solids from rinse water on their very informative blog, Just Paint here. Have you tried it? Could be a fun project - we get to wear safety glasses!
Have any other tips for me on how to reduce the amount of acrylics going down the drain? Let me know in the comments below!
Here's B, thinking about more ways to make his dog's life more eco-friendly. Until next time,
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