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Most of us live our lives surrounded by paint. It’s on our walls and ceilings, furniture and fixtures—in every shade and sheen imaginable. But a great deal of the paint we purchase remains leftover, languishing in old cans piled up in our closets, basements, backrooms, workshops and warehouses.

In fact, of the approximately 780 million gallons of architectural paint sold in the United States each year, an estimated 10 percent sits in storage despite being eligible for reuse or recycling.

To address this critical waste management issue, concerned members of the American Coatings Association, Washington, established PaintCare, a nonprofit organization dedicated to operating recycling programs across the country in states enacting new paint stewardship laws.

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Since 2010, PaintCare has introduced such programs in California, Colorado, Connecticut, Washington, D.C., Maine, Minnesota, Oregon, Rhode Island and Vermont—collecting a combined 27 million gallons of paint for recycling and helping local government-run waste facilities save hundreds of thousands of dollars annually in paint management costs.

Paint recycling made easy

PaintCare’s mission is a simple one: to reduce the amount of leftover paint, stain and varnish by informing households and businesses how and where to recycle unused quantities of these products.

In those states with a paint stewardship program, PaintCare’s primary effort is to set up conveniently located drop-off locations where residents and businesses may take their unwanted paint for no charge. Of the more than 1,750 drop-off sites across the country (ranging from nine in Washington, D.C., to 810 across California), the majority are located at neighborhood paint and hardware stores that have volunteered to participate in the program. Close-to-home retail sites offer residents a way to drop off paint any day during normal business hours instead of trying to find special collection places with limited hours of availability.

PaintCare also provides public education about “painting smarter,” including tips on buying the right amount of paint for the job, extending the life of unused paint, making the most of whatever quantities are left and finding people and agencies potentially interested in the remaining paint. And for those living in participating states who have at least 200 gallons of leftover paint, PaintCare offers a free large-volume pickup service.

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Partnering perks

Contractors: Professional painting contractors are among the groups most impacted by new state paint stewardship laws and programs. Therefore, PaintCare works closely with local retailers and the Painting and Decorating Contractors of America, based in Maryland Heights, Missouri, to provide advance notice and information before a new recycling program begins.

It is expected that painters will incorporate new paint stewardship fees into their job bids and pass them on to customers. In fact, many contractors include the fees as a line item in their quotes.

“Although we recognize an increase in paint costs is never desirable, we know we are providing a valuable service; we have heard repeatedly from contractors that they are better off under this system than having to hire a hazardous waste hauler to take their leftover paint,” PaintCare Executive Director Marjaneh Zarrehparvar says. “PaintCare fees are used to set up a system that makes it much easier and less costly for contractors to recycle paint. The system establishes a level playing field for all paint manufacturers, retailers and professionals who use paint.”

Retailers: While retailers in states with PaintCare programs are not required to participate as drop-off locations, many opt to do so to boost foot traffic while providing an environmental service for their community and helping reduce demands on local government programs. PaintCare provides participating retailers with program supplies and training, pays for paint transportation and recycling and promotes the drop-off sites to the local community.

Waste facilities: Although most drop-off locations are paint retail stores, PaintCare also welcomes partnerships with municipal agencies, particularly those that operate household hazardous waste (HHW) collection programs, landfills and transfer stations. PaintCare covers agency costs for paint storage bins, paint transportation and recycling and public outreach and education.

In addition, municipalities that have contracts with PaintCare are eligible for partial funding of joint outreach activities to promote local drop-off sites and events. Past projects have included newspaper advertising, direct mail and radio campaigns.

Local governments: In California alone, which accounts for more than one-half of the recycled paint collected by all PaintCare programs, 82 percent of local governments experienced a significant financial benefit from recycling program participation.

According to a 2016 evaluation report from the Product Stewardship Institute (PSI), Boston, the state’s HHW programs have reported cost savings ranging between $2,750 and $800,000 per year, with an average savings of $151,905 annually among 27 programs.

“Historically, Sacramento County’s Department of Waste Management and Recycling (DWMR) has spent approximately $150,000 annually to divert leftover or unwanted paint products from the landfill and ensure that they are reused or recycled,” Ken Pereira, Sacramento County waste management specialist, says. “Thanks to our successful relationship with PaintCare, DWMR has reduced those annual costs to less than $8,000 per year. These cost savings directly impact our rate payers and also allow DWMR to expand and improve the county’s HHW program.”

Primed for success

What began in 2003 as a collaborative effort between local and state governments, environmental advocacy groups and architectural paint manufacturers to launch a new direction in paint stewardship, the program has celebrated a great number of achievements since the first pilot program was launched in Oregon in 2010.

Notable accomplishments reported in recent PSI evaluation reports include:

  • Paint recovery increased by more than 300 percent in Connecticut between the period prior to implementation in 2012 to the second year of the state’s PaintCare program in 2015.
  • More than one-half of California’s drop-off sites reported increased foot traffic as a result of program participation, with 44 percent indicating a related increase in customer loyalty.
  • By the end of the second year of Connecticut’s PaintCare program, 99.9 percent of residents were living within 15 miles of a paint drop-off location.

As a boon to the public, business, government and environmental sectors, PaintCare is expected to expand to more states in the future—painting a new picture of product stewardship and collaborative action that promises to help promote responsible paint disposal practices throughout the country. wt

The author is the director of communications for PaintCare, Washington. He can be contacted at