Paint recycling has become a burgeoning activity benefiting many local HHW programs and small businesses, relying on paint recyclers and PaintCare. By recycling paint through a local paint recycling business or developing a local HHW program, paint recycling has proven to save local operating costs and be a benefit to the community both financially and environmentally.
By David Nightingale, CHMM, S.C.
Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) laws have been passed in many states for many product categories. As described in last month’s HHW Corner article (Waste Advantage Magazine, April 2022), this trend has been increasing. While paint, electronics, and battery EPR laws have passed in many states, nationally, 15 product categories have garnered product stewardship laws according the Product Stewardship Institute. They have mapped 35 of the 50 states passing at least one EPR law, including states such as Texas, West Virginia, Montana, Utah, Florida, and Arkansas. Two states, Maine and California, have passed nine EPR laws.1
Benefits of EPR programs to local communities are often characterized by the financial resources saved due to the introduction of an industry sponsored ERP program. For example, Hennepin County, MN reported saving $681,982 during the first year of the MN EPR law for waste electronics as electronics manufacturers assumed responsibility for collecting and recycling e-waste.2
Paint EPR Case Study
To get a feel for the impact of how these various EPR laws are working, we will look at the most popular modern EPR programs in the U.S. that are for architectural paints. PaintCare is the non-profit arm of the American Coatings Association (ACA) that works on behalf of paint producers in the U.S. to plan and operate architectural paint stewardship programs after a state has passed a paint stewardship law. In 2009, the first paint stewardship law was passed in Oregon followed by California, Colorado, Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Maine, Minnesota, Rhode Island, Vermont, and, most recently, Washington State, and New York (see PaintCare in Oregon: The First Decade sidebar, page 26, for selected details of the Oregon program). ACA is working to pass paint stewardship legislation in New Jersey and Massachusetts as well as eight other states.3 After some additional states follow suit, we may reach a tipping point where a national paint product stewardship law is proposed.
PaintCare collects leftover paint from households and businesses at paint retailers, but also from a significant number of local HHW programs without charging the customer or local HHW program at the point when they have leftover paints. The cost of the PaintCare program is paid for by a fee collected by paint manufacturers at the point of sale. Because paints have historically been 40 to 60 percent of the total volume of HHW collected, a significant financial burden has been lifted from local HHW programs for management of paints in states that have passed paint product stewardship legislation. This allows these programs to focus resources on more toxic and difficult to recycle HHW. As described in last month’s HHW Corner, this growing system of paint collection and management was the outcome of a national paint product stewardship initiative in the early 2000s organized and facilitated by the Product Stewardship Institute.4
Paint Recyclers and PaintCare
PaintCare has taken responsibility for implementation of paint product stewardship across the U.S. where there is enabling state legislation. The legislation usually encourages recycling of paints when possible and often invokes the state’s waste management hierarchy, including reuse.
Implementation of paint product stewardship involves creating relationships with local paint retailers and HHW collection programs to collect unwanted paints. A shrinking minority of leftover paints are oil-based formulas. Some oil-based paints are recycled, but much of it is used as a fuel. PaintCare relies on a host of different processors for the final disposition of the leftover paint.
Interestingly, not all of the paint recycling processors are businesses. Some are HHW programs that predated the creation of PaintCare and independently developed the expertise and methods to create high-quality recycled paint. Producing recycled paint keeps free liquids out of landfills and provides affordable quality recycled paints to consumers with a reduced carbon emissions footprint. It can provide revenue for the processor if the recycled paint is sold.
Portland Metro: Paint Recycling Pioneer
For example, PaintCare contracts with one of the most experienced U.S. paint recyclers in Portland, OR where there is a special regional municipal district called Metro. Metro processes leftover paints from its own HHW collection operations and to some extent other Oregon PaintCare collection points. It produces and sells a color pallet of quality recycled latex paints.5 In the first full year of Metro working as a paint recycling contractor for PaintCare, their HHW program saved an estimated $1million dollars in operating costs. Portland markets their “MetroPaint” through independent hardware stores, non-profit materials reuse outlets such as Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore in various communities, and paint retailers such as Miller Paints in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.
Chittenden, VT: An Early Local HHW Paint Recycler
Chittenden Solid Waste District in Vermont is a local government that was inspired by the Portland Metro paint recycling process many years ago and began processing their community’s latex paint into recycled paint called “Local Color”. Chittenden sells Local Color in six Vermont retail outlets. Like Metro Paint, Local Color comes in a variety of stock colors. Local Color is listed on the Chittenden Solid Waste District website at $11 per gallon. Chittenden is also confident in the quality of Local Color; “Local Color is known for its long-lasting thickness. It can be washed and scrubbed and often covers in one coat.”6 PaintCare now works with Chittenden and other paint recyclers to manage leftover paint from Vermont.
In the cases of Portland Metro and Chittenden, the cost of managing paints delivered to their HHW programs was significantly reduced as a new revenue stream was created as a PaintCare contractor and sales of recycled paint. Their HHW dollars now go much further in their communities to manage the rest of the HHW categories because of their relationship with PaintCare.
Paint Recycling Processors are Growing
In addition to the pioneering local Portland and Chittenden paint recycling programs, there are a growing number of paint processing for-profit businesses that have emerged in various places across the U.S. and Canada before and after PaintCare was formed. Often, these businesses were formed by professional painters or paint designers that were motivated by the waste of paint that they saw and the entrepreneurial opportunity that they imagined.
Most of these organizations have banded together to work on education and certification issues associated with recycled-content paints. With assistance from the Product Stewardship Institute, this group formed the International Paint Recycling Association. Members of this association are found in all corners of the U.S. and parts of Canada: https://recycledpaint.org/member-companies.
Evolution of the Metro Paint Program
Portland Metro learned how to filter and process the leftover paint feedstock into a quality product that is acceptable to homeowners and professional painters. On this journey Metro acquired industry standard lab testing equipment and industrial-scale paint processing equipment. Metro performs chemical analysis to ensure that every gallon of paint has the needed mold and fungus inhibitors to perform over time, just like other quality paint manufacturers.
Today Metro closely follows the paint industry’s Master Painter Institute as well as the International Paint Recycling Association quality control standards. Metro now provides a 20-year limited warranty for their recycled-content paint. I can personally attest to the quality of MetroPaint as it was the only paint applied to inside and outside of my house built in 2012, 10 years ago, and still looking great.
In the early years, Metro gave recycled paint away at no charge, but as confidence in the quality and demand for their paint increased, they began charging for the paint and have cautiously increased the price over many years. Currently their retail pricing is $15 per gallon at their processing plant in Portland, OR—much less than for the average cost of virgin paint products.7
Closing the Recycling Circle for Paints
PaintCare maintains a list of more than 400 locations by state where recycled-content paints are available at retail. Forty-two states have retail outlets listed for recycled-content paint.
Recycling paint, whether through PaintCare, a local paint recycling business, or by developing a local HHW program paint recycling and sales program, has proven to save local operating costs and be a benefit to the community financially and environmentally in the following ways:
• Use of recycled-content paint avoids the manufacturing and transportation costs associated with virgin products as well as the associated higher carbon emissions.
• Paint diverted from disposal reduces liquids in the landfill and can be processed into a quality paint at lower cost than virgin paints for the community. This may especially help low-income and disadvantaged citizens.
• California PaintCare reported that in fiscal year 2021, year nine of their paint product stewardship program, that an impressive 94 percent of all paint collected was reused or recycled.8
• Latex paint, the vast majority of all paints sold, provides very limited BTU value for waste-to-energy facilities, so diversion does not impact energy generation for those communities.
• Recycling is a higher priority than disposal on the waste management hierarchy.
Paintcare in Oregon: The Firs Decade
Background—Oregon was the first U.S. state to pass legislation in coordination with the ACA requiring architectural paint manufacturers to provide a product stewardship program in 2009. PaintCare runs the Oregon Architectural Paint Stewardship Program. Oregon had 4.2 million residents as of the 2020 U.S. Census—slightly larger populations than Connecticut and Oklahoma and just behind Kentucky and Louisiana. Oregon’s paint product stewardship program began operating in pilot mode in July of 2010 and the state legislature made the program permanent in their 2013 session.9
Highlights—Some highlights of the Oregon paint product stewardship as of the end of 2020 is as follows:10
• The program convenience goal of a permanent collection site for every 30,000 residents has been exceeded with 177 drop-off sites, including 28 HHW/Solid Waste collection sites and events. More than 98 percent of the population are provided paint collection service within 15 miles.
• PaintCare and local government programs sponsored 27 collection events including leftover paints.
• More than 706,270 gallons of post-consumer paint was collected in 2020, despite clear COVID-19 impacts from March to June. Consequently, the 2020 collection volumes decreased by 8 percent versus 2019.
• 6.7 million gallons of unwanted paints have been collected since program inception in mid-2010. This amounts to nearly 1.6 gallons of leftover paint collected per capita.
• Eighty percent of latex paint collected was turned into recycled paint plus another 3 percent of latex paints locally reused.
• Eight percent of oil-based paints were reused, and 92 percent was sent for energy recovery.
• Retail paint sales fees, which pay for the entire program, amounted to $5.6 million in 2020 with $40,000 sent to the state for oversight responsibilities.
Even though HHW and solid waste programs have a minority of leftover paint collection sites—28 of the 177 total—they collect a disproportionally large share of the leftover paint statewide at 51 percent. Retail locations collect about 45 percent of the leftover paint volume. Paint collection events add less than 1 percent of the collected paint volume, but are important to serve remote, low population density areas. PaintCare contractors also provide large volume pickups (LVP) at commercial locations on an appointment basis that adds 4 percent of leftover paint collection in Oregon.
Due to these clear benefits, and thanks to the pioneering work by ProductCare in British Columbia, Portland Metro in Oregon, and Chittenden Solid Waste District in Vermont, local processing of latex paints is likely to continue to be a preferred waste handling method by an increasing number of local HHW programs in concert with PaintCare in the U.S.
David Nightingale, CHMM, S.C., is Principal at Special Waste Associates (Olympia, WA), a company that assists communities in developing or improving HHW and VSQG collection infrastructure and operations. They have visited more than 150 operating HHW collection facilities in North America. Special Waste Associates works directly for program sponsors providing independent design review for new or upgrading facilities—from conceptual design through final drawings—to create locally-relevant, safer, more efficient and cost-effective collection systems. Special Waste Associates also published the book, HHW Collection Facility Design Guide. David can be reached at (360) 491-2190 or e-mail D[email protected].
2. As cited in Nash, Jennifer and Christopher Bosso. 2013. “Extended 3. Producer Responsibility in the United States: Full Speed Ahead?” Journal of Industrial Ecology, 17(2): 175-185, page 5, www.hks.harvard.edu/sites/default/files/centers/mrcbg/files/Nash_Bosso_2013-10.pdf
3. www.paint.org/coatingstech-magazine/articles/paintcare-celebrates-10-programs-10-years/ CoatingsTech, June 2019.
4. The author represented the interests of Washington State and the NW Product Stewardship Council during these negotiations.
9. Department of Environmental Quality: Paint: Materials Management : State of Oregon