Painting the Town

Painting the Town

Rhode Island enacts producer responsibility paint law.

Producer responsibility for paint recycling gained momentum with Rhode Island becoming the fourth state to enact such a law.

Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chaffee signed into law a bill requiring that paint companies selling paint in Rhode Island take responsibility for collecting and reusing, recycling or disposing of the products. The new law calls for the creation of an unused paint recycling program in Rhode Island, managed by a paint trade organization, funded by a surcharge on retail paint products and paid by consumers. Retailers who sell paint will be required to supply information on where to return unused product. Only those manufacturers who participate in the program can sell paint products in the state.

The legislation also calls for the establishment of collection sites statewide, as well as consumer education.

The state general assembly said the surcharges can’t exceed the cost of the program. The state Department of Environmental Management must approve the financing.

House Bill 7233 was sponsored by Rep. Donna Walsh and companion Senate Bill 2083 was sponsored by Sen. Dominick Ruggerio.

“It’s a significant milestone for paint stewardship in the United States,” says Scott Cassel, CEO of the Boston-based Product Stewardship Institute (PSI), which has been working on the issue nationally for years.

The state itself stands to save $1.7 million annually from the cost of collection and recycling. PSI estimates that an average of 220,000 gallons of latex and oil paint goes unused each year in the state, based on a 10-percent national leftover average calculated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Producer responsibility laws for paint have been passed previously in Oregon (2009), California (2010) and Connecticut (2011). Oregon is the only state so far that has implemented the law.

The paint industry supported the bill and in fact provided the model for the legislation. The industry formed a nonprofit organization, PaintCare, to administer it the program.

“We’re very pleased that [the governor] signed it into law,” says Alison Keane, vice president for government affairs for the Washington-based American Coatings Association. “We’ve been working on it in different states. We want as many states as possible to use our model, so it’ll be consistent.”

Cassel, whose organization works with industry to take environmental responsibility for their products, said it was key that industry took the lead in Rhode Island to get the legislation passed.

“This is an example of regulation that can lead to innovation,” Cassel said. “Free markets operating in a way to figure out the goal we set – that’s the balance we’re looking for.”

The PSI has been targeting paint as a key producer responsibility material. It represents the largest expense of any household hazardous waste in the United States. It costs over a half million dollars annually to manage properly, he says, and “of course we don’t manage it properly, so there are externalities in cost.”

“It can be recycled and sold at less than half the cost,” Cassel adds. “And it creates recycling jobs. Financial savings, economic benefits, increased recycling and reduced resources.”

The paint industry at first didn’t want to take responsibility for recycling the paint. “But they listened, to their credit, had meetings. We worked with them for 10 years,” Cassel says. “We’ve turned a entire industry around in their thinking on a half billion a year problem. That’s significant, and this is what it takes.”

Keane acknowledged the paint industry was skeptical at first, but it came to embrace the idea, in no small part for pragmatic reasons. “If we were going to have to take responsibility we wanted to own and operate the system, run it like a business. If the state took over we wouldn’t have control. It wouldn’t be the most efficient way.”

The association plans to continue to work with other states that are interested to further its legislative model. New York is one state that is currently considering the legislation. “Other states desperately want and need this legislation,” Cassel says. “The paint industry is building internal capacity structure and lobbying for this legislation.”

And Cassel hopes that the paint industry stands as an example for other industries on producer responsibility. “It’s a big milestone for a little state.”

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