Policies & Politics paint-old-cans-small

Published on September 8th, 2009 | by Dave Dempsey

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The Greening of Paint

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Oregon this summer became the first state to enact in law a product stewardship law for the collection of leftover consumer paint.  The pilot program, which expires in 2014, involves a consumer fee that a nonprofit organization established by paint producers uses to pay for the collection and proper disposal or reuse of the leftover paint.

Why does it matter? Because about 10% of all paint sold in the U.S, or 64 million gallons a year, becomes leftover. With no convenient options for reprocessing the paint, consumers may dispose of it in trash or pour it down floor drains or into storm sewers. Some paints include hazardous ingredients and many states and localities treat leftover paint as a household hazardous waste.  The Product Stewardship Institute estimates it costs municipalities approximately $500 million annually to handle leftover paint.

The first legislature to approve legislation to create a pilot paint stewardship program was Minnesota’s, where passage happened in both 2008 and 2009, but Gov. Tim Pawlenty vetoed it both times because of the consumer fee the bill created.  Consumers and businesses in Minnesota generate an estimated 3 million gallons of leftover paint each year. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency says up to 60% by volume of household hazardous wastes in the state are leftover paint. A company in Fridley, Minnesota is filling part of the void by turning leftover paint into a product that it says is comparable in quality to new paint.

While states experiment with stewardship and other extended producer responsibility programs, paint industry guidelines for management of leftover paint encourage disposal of oil-based paint through local hazardous waste collections, while latex paint can be solidified before disposal in trash. Consumers are also urged to buy only the amount of paint they need for a project.

Photo credit:  Greene County, Ohio Environmental Services.




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About the Author

Dave Dempsey is a writer active in conservation for more than 25 years. A frequent freelance contributor and newsweekly columnist, Dave is the author of four award-winning books on the environment and a biography of Michigan’s longest-serving Governor, William Milliken. A native of Michigan who now lives in the Twin Cities metro in Minnesota, Dave served as environmental advisor to Michigan Governor James J. Blanchard from 1983-89. President Clinton appointed him to the Great Lakes Fishery Commission in 1994. Dave has also held numerous administrative, policy and consulting positions for nonprofit conservation and environmental organizations in Michigan and Minnesota. He was both policy director and executive director at the Michigan Environmental Council and Great Lakes policy consultant for Clean Water Action. Dave has a bachelor of arts degree from Western Michigan University and a master’s degree in natural resource development from Michigan State University, and has served as an adjunct university instructor at MSU in environmental policy.



  • Scott Cassel

    Thanks for highlighting this unique program, which is now available to every state in the country through an agreement facilitated by the Product Stewardship Institute with the paint industry and government agencies, in a phased roll out.

    A few corrections, however. The “paint industry guidelines” were developed jointly by a multi-stakeholder group, and they encourage buying less and source reduction, then reuse, recycling, and as a last resort disposal. Oil-based paint should never be tossed in the trash but needs to be specially collected. It is then fuel blended for energy value. Latex paint should also be reused or recycled, and only dried and disposed as a last resort if no recycling programs are available. Disposal of latex paint loses jobs and economic value of a raw material, and impacts the environment more than recycling or reuse.

    Scott Cassel, Executive Director
    Product Stewardship Institute

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