The Problem: Volume, Cost, Waste, Toxicity
Leftover consumer paint is a high volume, costly, and wasted resource. Oil base paint is highly toxic and can have detrimental health and environmental impacts:
Volume: For the year 2000, an estimated 64 million gallons of leftover consumer paint was generated in the US. In Washington State alone (2005), approximately 693,000 gallons of leftover paint was collected at Household Hazardous Waste (HHW) facilities, the second largest waste stream behind oil collected.
Cost: The Paint Product Stewardship Initiative (PPSI) has estimated the cost for local governments to manage leftover consumer paint averages approximately $8 per gallon. Using this estimate, local governments in Washington State spent $5.5 million in 2005, or 89 cents for every person in the state to recycle paint.
Waste: Due to the high cost of managing leftover paint, some local governments have decided to not accept latex paint, which makes up 70-80% of leftover paint. Leftover paint is a resource that still has value when made into recycled-content paint (RCP) – which reduces the amount of raw materials that need to be extracted and processed to manufacture new virgin paint.
Toxicity: Oil-based paints are highly toxic and can harm fish and wildlife, as well as pollute groundwater if dumped on the ground. If used in closed areas, volatile organic compounds in paints can irritate eyes, skin, and lungs and cause headaches and nausea. They can also contribute to asthma, other respiratory problems, muscle weakness, and liver and kidney damage. Latex paints are less toxic and not considered hazardous, but excess paint should not be poured down the drain.
Product Stewardship Solutions
Paint manufacturers, retailers, and others can work together to reduce the amount of unwanted paint and manage leftover paint properly.
Paint Take Back Programs: Manufacturers can set up statewide "take back" locations to collect unwanted paint and increase the recycling rate of paint where possible. Local and state governments can help to publicize these programs.
Legislation: There are several states that have enacted product stewardship legislation for paint in the U.S. and many provinces in Canada. Typically, the paint manufacturer finances and provides the take back program via a product stewardship organization such as PaintCare. An "assessment" is included in the price of the product that the consumer pays when they buy their paint. The manufacturer is responsible for meeting specific performance goals such as providing convenient, accessible collection locations throughout the state. Local and state governments help to publicize the program while retailers and consumers take an active role in ensuring that paint is properly recycled.
Design: Manufacturers can improve the design of paint by reducing the toxic components and volatile organic compounds contained in paint.
Market Development: To effectively close the loop on recycling paint, there needs to be significant market demand for the recycled paint at a price that supports the recycling system plus reasonable profit. Manufacturers and retailers can advertise and sell recycled paint in their retail stores.