Why Londoners are hoarding 5 million litres of a very weird substance - and why it's a problem

London households are stashing away an estimated five million litres of paint "just in case", but it's posing a risk to the environment.

Paint contains polymers that help it stick to walls, but the chemical is bad for the planet and makes the substance difficult to recycle.

In the capital, most waste paint is incinerated or sent to landfills, but the vast majority of households stash it away in their homes - enough to coat Tower Bridge 299 times over, according to the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC).

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According to a survey conducted by the RSC, 35 per cent of London households redecorated during the pandemic, with a third of those citing Covid measures as an "excuse" to do so.

Six in 10 residents of the capital admitted to stashing away unused or partially used decorating paint, although paint spoils in a matter of months if stored incorrectly.

Paint contains polymers in liquid foundations (PLFs), which are often made from non-renewable fossil sources, however, 98 per cent of waste paint is sent to landfill every year.

Some councils offer a collection service, but the RSC is calling on the Government to provide better support to better support to local reuse and recycling initiatives.

Professor Tom Welton, President of the Royal Society of Chemistry, said: “We have found that most households have tins of paint languishing in cupboards, sheds and garages – and that while consumers want to be able to recycle, they face a ‘postcode lottery’, making it unnecessarily difficult to do the right thing.

"All this paint contains huge quantities of valuable polymers in liquid formulations to help it stick to your walls. It’s unsustainable to waste such a commodity, and we’re risking environmental damage through not re-using and recycling, so we’re urging consumers to write to their MPs to help highlight this issue.

"Our research shows we are currently producing enough of these polymers to fill Wembley stadium 32 times every year and we are only just beginning to understand where they go after being used."

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Why Londoners are hoarding 5 million litres of a very weird substance - and why it's a problem

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Only 16 per cent of Londoners said they had recycled paint they were no longer in need of, while 78 per cent were unsure of whether their local council offered a collection service.

A third of those surveyed by the RSC said "it seemed a waste" to throw away unused paint, while nine per cent admitted they did not know how to dispose of it responsibly.

The RSC recommends several methods for recycling unneeded paint, pointing out that several shops offer full refunds on unopened tins.

Leftover paint can also be recycled through community schemes such as Community Repaint, online marketplaces, RecycleNow and local council websites.

Celebrity decorator and TV presenter Linda Barker said: "Decorating was a fabulous way for us to cope with lockdowns during the pandemic, but a direct result of that is we’ve been left with an awful lot of unused paint – and while there are some organisations who offer recycling, coverage across the UK is sporadic at best.

"We all have a responsibility to be more sustainable and there is already a huge trend for making more environmentally friendly choices when buying paint, so we know there is a willingness to do this.

"We urgently need more facilities and ways for people to be able to recycle and reuse unwanted paint so it doesn’t go bad sitting in a shed – or end up incinerated or in landfill."

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