Paint recycler Amazon Environmental will recycle 3 to 4 million gallons of paint this year between its four facilities in Minnesota, California and Oklahoma.
Getting the paint is easy—there is an abundance of it, which is mainly sourced from collection programs facilitated by nonprofit PaintCare, which represents paint manufacturers, or from other household paint programs.
The hard part is knowing how to process the material. Then, there are challenges like high cost for this time-consuming work, limited domestic markets and “Big Paint’s” reluctance to embrace and offer recycled paints. As tough has been overcoming overall public perception that recycled paint is inferior to virgin paint.
But if processed properly, it is equal or superior in performance, say recyclers who undergo quality control processes and test their products through third-party labs.
Amazon puts only the better-quality material into feedstocks, which are used to make primer and interior/exterior paint.
“But there are variations in the paint, whether it be in consistency, age viscosity, etc. They all are factors affecting what we can do with paint,” says Marty Bergstedt, president of Amazon Environmental.
The plant operators utilize a spectrophotometer for color consistency, monitor pH for material stability and filter out particles larger than 100 microns for sprayability.
The biggest challenge is dealing with paint that can’t be recycled in an environmentally sound way and other non-latex materials like oil-based paint, paint thinners and driveway sealers that make their way into the stream.
About 40 to 60 percent is good for recycling, with the average incoming container being half full.
Acrylatex Coatings & Recycling, based in Azusa, Calif., offers more than 300 colors of recycled paint, mainly earth tones, made for homes and offices.
It’s sorted by color, type, sheen and quality. It’s removed from its original cans, placed into 275-gallon mixing tanks and blended with a large, high-speed mixer. Periodically, the company sends it to third-party labs to ensure quality in areas like color matching, adhesion and coverage.
“We have had our paints tested for performance against the best name brands. Our product tested to be as good in every case and outperformed in some cases,” says Brian Brittain, president and CEO of Acrylatex Coatings & Recycling.
Material that can’t be used to make architectural paints can be used to manufacture other post-consumer products, such as cement additives, decorative ground cover, asphalt slurry and alternative fuels.
“However, it’s best for the environment if we use paint for its intended purposes and/or create another type of coating from the formula base,” says Brittain.
More than 10 years ago, Acrylatex Coatings processed 40,000 gallons a year. Today, it processes more than 50,000 gallons a month. Revenues in 2018 were $3.2 million, and the company is on track for $3.5 million in 2019, he says.
Labor, rent and insurance are the highest expenses. Raw materials for the processing and packaging run a close second.
“PaintCare, Clean Harbors, Stericycle and Veolia Environmental are key assets to our success. They supply 90 percent of our paints,” says Brittain.
PaintCare alone has collected more than 38 million gallons of paint through year-round drop offs in several states, household hazardous waste events and other programs since 2009, reports Brett Rodgers, PaintCare’s director of communications.
Acrylatex Coatings’ retail partners include Habitat for Humanity locations, some small hardware stores and a few domestic paint brokers who buy and resell abroad.
The company works with all paint brands and with average to top-of-the-line grades, as does Amazon.
“Some stores that sell only virgin are not offering that good of a quality, or they are not offering competitive pricing to recycled paint of the same quality. Meanwhile, we sell recycled [paint] at a price point comparable to lower-quality [paint] you would buy in stores. So, it’s a better paint for that price,” says Bergstedt, who says he sells for one-third to one-half the cost of virgin paint sold by major paint manufacturers.
However, he has found that trying to sell the product for its “green” attributes has not worked well. Most consumers are more interested in quality and price. The fact that it’s recyclable tends to be their third interest.
Jamil Jackson, owner of CEO Contracting in Minneapolis, an interior remodeling contractor, uses recycled paint at 70 percent of his clients’ sites.
He likes that recycled paint has minimal odor and applies no differently than BEHR ULTRA, which is about $35 a gallon. Amazon is $17 a gallon, says Jackson, adding the only downfall is limited colors.
He shows clients the difference in price points.
“If they don’t have a color they are set on, they typically opt for recycled [paint]. And I never had a complaint on the quality. Once they’ve tried it, they will typically ask me to use it again,” says Jackson.