Redesigning The Paint Can To Save Millions Of Gallons Of Paint That The Boring Old Design Wastes

An idea that could mean no more piles of half-used, dried out paint cans in your basement or garage.

The basic design of a can of paint hasn’t changed much since its invention in 1868. But the simple metal containers don’t actually work that well: Around 75 million gallons of the paint sold in the U.S. each year are unused and eventually thrown out.


A big reason is a flaw in the packaging.

“Other than actually holding paint, the traditional paint can offers very few benefits at all,” says Alec Machin, a designer from the U.K. “There’s an ever-growing pile of old half-used paint cans sitting in my garage. Most of the containers have been deformed in some way . . . and a large amount of the paint which has been left in the container has already dried out.”

One part of his idea is obvious. The containers come in smaller sizes, so people buy only the amount they need for their walls.

And if extra paint is left, the package protects it in a couple of ways. Because Machin’s design squeezes out paint through a one-way valve, the paint doesn’t dry out and lasts longer. A special coating, using the same material in emergency blankets, protects the paint from heat and cold in a garage.

The hexagonal shape of the package makes it more efficient to pack on a truck than the usual can, so it can save energy in transportation. The package could also be shipped flat and assembled in a store when the paint is mixed. Eventually, Machin says, the containers could even be used to mix paint themselves–so stores could prepare and stock a smaller collection of colors.

For paint manufacturers selling in states like California, which now requires companies to set up programs to take back unused paint and safely dispose of it, the design could help save money as it protects the environment. The package itself is also easier to recycle than a normal paint can.


For now, it’s just a concept. Machin, a student at the University of Nottingham, designed the package for the RSA Student Design Awards. But he’s planning to meet with paint manufacturers next, especially those already selling environmentally friendly paint and hopes to bring the idea to life.

About the author

Adele Peters is a staff writer at Fast Company who focuses on solutions to some of the world's largest problems, from climate change to homelessness. Previously, she worked with GOOD, BioLite, and the Sustainable Products and Solutions program at UC Berkeley.