Paint stewardship means less government and cost, and more recycling options

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Courtesy of Waste Advantage Magazine

For many in the U.S., this winter was a tough one and when the rain and snow stop, the spring maintenance begins, which usually includes painting and cleaning out the basement and garage, which often have stored years of leftover paint. That is when homeowners ask—do I throw it in the trash? Is there somewhere I can bring this paint? Does it have any value? Can it be recycled?

The California Product Stewardship Council (CPSC) is completing a three county project in California that is informing and assisting the paint manufacturers with a new State program to manage leftover paint that will impact every paint purchaser and user in the State and could be a model for others as well. CPSC is a non-profit organization whose mission is to promote the use of Product Stewardship policy for problem waste products. Leftover paint is a very big economic and environmental problem for local governments across California and in most States. In this article, we will explain what the problem is, how it is being solved in California, and how that information can be used across the country.

CPSC is the primary grant partner to San Joaquin County along with Tehama and San Francisco Counties on a statewide grant from the Department of Resources, Recovery and Recycling (CalRecycle). We branded the grant work project team as the “Be Paint Wise Partnership.” The primary goals are:

  • To educate consumers about how to buy the right amount of paint
  • Establish paint “swaps” where leftover paint can be left for others who need it
  • Establish convenient take-back locations for paint recycling
  • Encourage purchase of recycledcontent paint
  • Develop a Statewide product stewardship program for paint, which will be handed over to the paint manufacturers

The lessons learned from this grant and the results of focus groups and barrier studies are explained as follows.

The Paint Problem – The Stewardship Solution
More than 74 million gallons of paint are sold each year in California, according to CalRecycle. But not all paint sold is being used, which creates leftover paint that must be properly managed. Because there are not enough convenient ways to recycle paint, contractors and others store enormous amounts of leftover paint in garages and on their property, which can have negative environmental impacts as seen in Figure 1, page 58 where the new homeowner placed an ad in a local publication offering “all the paint you can take for $5”.

Landfilling leftover liquid paint is banned in California, so local governments have been collecting paint through household hazardous waste (HHW) facilities since the early 1990s. Although HHW facilities are only seeing a small percentage of leftover paint—approximately 5%—they still collect 2 million gallons each year that costs approximately $27 million annually to manage. With low recovery rates and high cost, California needed a better option, so the State looked to product stewardship legislation as a sustainable funding and management solution.

Product Stewardship, otherwise known as Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR), is a policy approach to managing many types of problem waste products such as paint. The approach transfers the cost of product waste management to the producers, and ultimately they pass those costs on to the consumers, so the costs are no longer born by the general public through increased taxes or garbage rates. The approach is used around the world as a way to stop socializing the costs of expensive waste products and allows consumers to see the full cost of the product and choose if that is the right purchase for them.

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