Painting Out of a Corner

Painting Out of a Corner

Oregon spearheads a new approach to paint recycling.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, an estimated 10 percent of the more than 750 million gallons of architectural paint sold each year in the United States goes unused. If all this paint were safely reused and recycled, it would cost more than half a billion dollars each year. Since only a small percentage of this leftover paint is currently diverted from landfills and incinerators, the remaining portion disposed of in household trash results in wasted resources and potential environmental harm.

On July 23, 2009, Oregon became the first state in the nation to enact a law requiring paint manufacturers to safely manage leftover latex and oil-based paint from consumer and contractor painting jobs. The Oregon law was based on a model developed through consensus with paint manufacturers, retailers, government agencies, paint recyclers, painting contractors and other participants. A similar model has been successful throughout Canada for many years. The Product Stewardship Institute (PSI) facilitated this multi-year national dialogue that resulted in the Oregon paint program, which was launched on July 1, 2010. The new program is expected to save Oregon residents about $6 million per year through the proper management of up to 800,000 gallons of leftover paint each year.

All producers that sell paint in Oregon are obligated to become a part of the program, which is funded by an assessment per container of architectural paint sold in the state. Thus, costs for safely managing leftover paint will be incorporated into the purchase price of new paint. More than 80 paint producers are currently participating in the program under the auspices of PaintCare Inc., a non-profit association formed by the American Coatings Association.

The Oregon law required paint manufacturers or their product stewardship organization, PaintCare, to submit to the state regulatory agency a management plan, which was approved by the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (OR DEQ) in late July. Under the new law, the plan must provide for reducing paint waste, increasing reuse and recycling, and safely disposing of remaining unusable paint. Paint recycling eventually will be more convenient throughout the state, resulting in more people being able to use the system and more good, usable paint being available for recycling. There will be more collection locations in all regions of the state, including rural areas not currently served. In addition, the system provides for the collection of latex paint from contractors and businesses which, prior to the PaintCare program, had to pay a fee at the time of collection.

Part of the industry management plan includes an outreach and education element, including point of sale materials, and earned media and paid media — all designed to impart a buy right, reuse and recycle message. Collection locations are a mix of established municipal sites and new retail locations that add greater collection convenience in some areas of the state and provide new service in rural areas that were previously underserved.

Governments that currently collect leftover paint will realize a direct financial savings since the PaintCare program now funds the transportation and recycling of the collected paint — costs that used to be borne by the government. Municipal governments can apply this savings toward the disposal of other priority household hazardous wastes or for new services in their communities.

Many paint store managers recognize the opportunity to develop brand loyalty with their customers and give them a reason to come back to their stores. The retailers' role in paint management is significant. They are tasked with showing customers how to buy the right amount of paint for a job so that they don't get stuck with leftovers, in addition to educating them about how to properly store their paint. Moreover, they will highlight the problems that leftover paint can cause if thrown in the garbage, and direct customers to a reuse or recycling center by contacting Earth 911's national recycling database at, or by calling the toll-free hotline at 1-800-CLEANUP. This educational component is required by the new law, although the details (such as the website and toll-free number) are outlined in the industry management plan submitted to the OR DEQ.

Multiple service providers have been selected to transport and process the paint collected in Oregon. PSC, a private environmental services company, will collect all the leftover paint. Good, usable latex paint from the Portland Metro area and other areas of the state will be sent to Portland Metro's regional government for recycling into new paint. Metro runs a nationally-renowned recycled paint manufacturing plant, where leftover paint is turned into 100 percent post-consumer "Metro Paint" for resale to the local market. Unusable latex paint will be sent to Amazon Environmental for use in the manufacture of Portland Cement, and oil-based paint will be transported for use as an alternative fuel source in various markets.

The Oregon paint program is still in its infancy and is expected to grow considerably over its first year. PSI will continue to facilitate the national multi-stakeholder group that is rolling out the model legislation to other states and evaluating the Oregon program to document successes and identify potential changes needed. Previously, as part of this project, PSI assisted in the development of a source reduction study, reuse manual, an infrastructure study (including performance goals), a green seal standard for recycled latex paint, and a lifecycle assessment comparing latex paint reuse and recycling to drying and disposal.

This new law ties into the wider producer responsibility movement, through which manufacturers are taking responsibility to reduce the lifecycle impacts of their products, including internalizing the end-of-life management costs, rather than having government set up and fund collection programs for waste products. There are over 60 producer responsibility laws in the United States in 32 states covering seven product categories, including paint.

Scott Cassel is the executive director and founder of the Boston-based Product Stewardship Institute. Abby Boudouris is a senior policy analyst for the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality and coordinates the statewide household hazardous waste program. Alison Keane is a counsel in the American Coatings Association's Government Affairs Department and executive director of the association's PaintCare program.