More than two million square metres of graffiti has been cleaned up nationwide thanks to the donation of more than 250,000 litres of recycled paint.

"Ten years ago South Auckland was awash with graffiti vandalism but now we're starting to get on top of it and there is new pride in the area," said Manukau Beautification Charitable Trust's Scott Henderson.

A programme, started by Resene, which says it is the first of its type in the world, is designed to remove as much paint-related material from New Zealand landfills as possible.

The solvent from returned paint is extracted and recycled, and metal and plastic pails are recycled in a custom-built plant in Auckland. Old waterbased paint is re-mixed and donated to communities, often via councils, to cover graffiti.

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The 3 millionth paint container will be recycled next month, a milestone that comes 11 years after Resene's PaintWise initiative began.

Henderson is in charge of cleaning up graffiti in Manukau and said the recycled paint and council involvement is vital.

There is an expectation that community facilities should be clean and people are empowered to report the problem, "we're seeing signs of generational change", he said.

Henderson said the difference between graffiti art and crime was permission.

"Without permission, it's crime."

Trevor Tuitt from 3R, the firm that manages PaintWise, said the growth in paint volumes being recycled is "exponential".

"Our aim is to re-use as many materials as possible and reduce the amount of paint and packaging that ends up in landfill," Tuitt said.

"We have a very successful paint recycling set-up in New Zealand."

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It has become routine for Kiwis, professional painters and DIY-ers alike to return unused, leftover paint and its packaging for recycling, Resene said.