Making Old Paint Look Good

In its ongoing effort to divert waste by developing new markets for recycled materials, Ohio's Hamilton County Solid Waste Management District is in its fourth year of providing grant funding for a paint recycling program that has become one of Cincinnati's most successful recycling projects.

“The paint reblending program has been a star program for us,” says Linda Holterhoff, executive director of Keep Cincinnati Beautiful (KCB), which founded the program. “Every year we've increased our sales by 100 percent.”

Begun in 1996, KCB started the program by collecting latex paint in a 55-gallon drum from the rear of a truck, blending it in a single mixing container and giving it away for free. Today, the program collects more than 2,000 gallons of latex paint per month from Hamilton County, nearby Butler County residents and a variety of commercial sources at 11 local hardware stores.

The paint then is reblended into a high-quality, versatile product at a 10,000-square-foot facility. The reblended paint, called Nu-Blend, then is sold to consumers, contractors and others for interior and exterior applications at $8.50 per gallon. This is well-below the current selling price for the product's virgin counterpart, Holterhoff says.

Although the program still receives funding from the District, this year it officially became its own nonprofit entity and no longer is an affiliate of KCB. “It's always our goal to have our programs become self-sufficient,” Holterhoff says.

According to Bill Wojcik, executive director and general manager of Nu-Blend Paints Inc., one reason for the program's success is its quality. Several years ago, a mildew-retardant and bactericide were added to the paint for quality control. The result was a higher quality paint that tested better than some new latex paints on the market, Wojcik says.

Another concept that spurred the program's success was that the District stopped giving the product away, which helped bolster its image. “People then started realizing that there was value in what they were getting,” Wojcik says.

Today's Nu-Blend paint, marketed as a recycled, re-blended product, comes in 140 colors. The paint also can be custom-blended to match specific tint requests, making it a more competitive product.

Last year, the company diverted 62.5 tons of latex paint — and 30,000 paint cans — from the waste stream, Wojcik says.

Nu-Blend's steady growth and sales have prompted the company to make future growth plans. “Any business would like to have as much as it can right away, but we have to have measured growth,” Wojcik says. “We have a target growth rate of 25 percent per quarter, which allows us to operate efficiently. If all of our customers came in the same day, we couldn't handle it.”

Despite being well-received by most, the company still faces challenges breaking through the image that recycled materials are inferior to virgin. “A lot of our business customers are reluctant to sell it to their customers, but we just tell them to try us,” Wojcik says. “We're not trying to be all things to all people, but we believe we have a good product that's good for the environment.”

Wojcik believes that the company is not likely to need grant funding next year, although as a nonprofit business, it welcomes any financial support. “We should be at a completely self-sustainable level by then,” Wojcik says.