As we produce art, it’s important to be mindful of its impact on the environment. This page focuses on the intersection of art and the environment, including proper disposal practices and other information relating to sustainability and art. It will also feature artists and exhibits that focus on environmental themes.
— Mimi Guernica
Eco-Friendly Art Practices
The major issues relating to eco-friendly practices for artists are:
- The supplies you purchase
- How you use them
- Your disposal practices
When you buy art supplies, consider purchasing them from manufacturers that use green energy, limit their use of water, produce non-toxic paints, and use recycled products for manufacturing and packaging and shipping. Some distributors designate manufacturers that follow these practices on products listed on their websites.
Using non-toxic art supplies is good for you and the environment. Adequate ventilation of your space is important to minimizing your exposure and protecting your health.
Reduce, reuse, recycle are the operative principles for environmentally-sustainable practices related to waste and disposal. These principles apply throughout society and specifically to artists.
Reduce is the best option because it means you’re introducing less waste into the environment by the choices you make. For example, you could choose to limit the amount of material you buy so you use only what you need. Extending the life of your paint also reduces waste.
Reuse means you are repurposing an item that is already in commerce. Examples include reusing canvases rather than buying new ones and using ‘found’ objects in your art.
Recycle is third in the hierarchy. You are disposing of an item and placing it in the waste stream, but its components can be reused to make new products rather than extracting raw materials. This saves energy and lessens greenhouse gas emissions.
If you paint with acrylics, it’s important to keep waste out of the water supply. Wipe brushes, palette knives, and other tools with a rag before rinsing them. Filter solids from the water you used to paint before pouring it down the drain. There are a variety of ways to do this ranging from simple things, like placing a drain screen over your sink, using a coffee filter to catch the solids, or cat litter to coagulate the wastes, to more complicated ones such as using the Golden Crash Kit system, a multi-step process. Two of the videos to which I’ve provided links lay out these methods in greater detail.
I’ve also included a link for a video on eco-friendly painting with watercolor.
If you use oil paints, filter the solids out of your solvents. Once they’ve fallen to the bottom, you can reuse the solvent.
Please see the links below for further information.
- How to Dispose of Acrylic Paint Water (David M. Kessler Fine Art)
- How to Dispose of Acrylic Paint Waste Water – EcoFriendly acrylic water treatment for artists (The Dotting Center)
- 7 Tips for eco-friendly painting with watercolor (Julia Bausenhardt)
Spray Paint Safe Practices:
- Spray Paint Safe Practices
- Krylon Safe Practices
- Acrylic spray paint (Montana Gold) vs. water-based spray paint (MTN)
Disposal/Recycling of Household Hazardous Materials in the DMV
Disposal/Recycling of Household Hazardous Materials vs. Regular Trash in the DMV
As artists, it’s important to understand the difference between Household Hazardous Material and regular trash because how an item is categorized determines its proper management, disposal and recycling.
What Are Household Hazardous Materials (HHM)?
- HHM are products found in the home that are flammable, corrosive, poisonous or potentially hazardous.
- HHM products typically found in the studio, workshop or garage contain hazardous ingredients that poses human health and environmental risks when managed improperly.
Oil-based paints and related solvents are considered HHM because they are flammable. Generally, HHM are disposed of at your local jurisdiction’s processing facility and transfer station. Curbside pick-up is unavailable for these items.
In contrast, most jurisdictions accept latex/water based paints in the regular trash provided they have been dried out.
I’ve provided links to several DMV local jurisdictions below to enable you to check on specific requirements, as they differ from one another. Some jurisdictions, such as Montgomery County, MD and Arlington, VA, specifically address paint disposal/recycling whereas others don’t. That said, if you keep in mind the difference between HHM and regular trash, it should help you to determine how to properly manage and dispose of your materials.
Disposal Guidelines for Discontinued Photographic Products
Resources Regarding Recycling/Disposal in the DMV
Montgomery County, MD (Department of Environmental Protection)
Prince George’s County, MD
DC Department of General Services
Arlington County, VA
Climate in Crisis: Environmental Change in the Indigenous Americas, 2/14/20 – 7/9/23
This installation draws upon the strength of the museum’s Arts of the Americas collection to highlight the complex worldviews of Indigenous peoples and explore how their beliefs, practices, and ways of living have been impacted by the ongoing threat of environmental destruction.
Climate in Crisis Exhibit
Serpentine’s North Gallery in London
Back to Earth brings together more than a dozen artists to address what is now a climate crisis.
“I think art can be a wake-up call for people,” Hans Ulrich Obrist, the Serpentine’s artistic director, said in an interview via Zoom. “We could never say that art can solve this very massive problem. But I think no field can solve this on its own. I think we can only address this extinction crisis if we work together — science, art, politics, all the different fields.”
Back to the Earth Exhibit