Crushed boxes and junk mail, plastic and glass bottles, cardboard and metal cans – they go in the blue bin. While recycling has become second nature to most of us, there’s probably something else lurking in our closets and basements that also deserves careful attention when it comes to proper disposal: unused paint.
More than 800 million gallons of paint are sold in the United States each year, and according to the EPA, about 10% of that paint goes unused. Aside from being a wasted resource, unused paint poured down drains can cause serious damage to pipes and our water system — and for the record, throwing cans in the trash with paint still wet is illegal.
A good solution: PaintCare (paintcare.org), a national nonprofit with a strong presence in Minnesota. Steve Pincuspy, program manager for PaintCare in Minnesota, tells us more.
Q: What led to the creation of PaintCare?
A: PaintCare was formed in 2009 after a dialogue between the paint industry and many government officials in partnership with the non-profit Product Stewardship Institute. The first step was a pilot in Oregon to collect leftover house paint, stains, primers and clear coats. The model worked so well that they wanted to expand it to as many countries as possible. Minnesota, under Gov. Mark Dayton, signed into law product stewardship for paints in 2013 and we officially launched here in 2014. It’s definitely a model that our local stakeholders have been excited about and the industry has embraced.
Q: I’m surprised only 10 states and the District of Columbia signed up. Why do you think more states aren’t participating in PaintCare?
A: We only operate in states that have a paint product stewardship law in place. We need to find sponsors and champions in each state to make it work. Minnesota was among the first four or five to adopt the program. There is a cover charge included that is part of the paint purchase – no tax and no deposit! – that supports our mission.
Q: Your company’s slogan is “Recycling Made Easy”. But I suspect most people don’t always think about properly disposing of paint or its cousins, stains and varnishes. Where could it end up instead?
A: Honestly, a lot of people let it build up in their garages and basements – then make it someone else’s problem when they move, leaving old paint behind. A worst-case scenario was a place in St. Louis County where the sheriff found all of those open cans of paint; someone had poured the whole contents into the creek.
Q: Terrible. But even pouring paint into the sink is a no-go. tell us why
A: Even water-based paints contain binders, resins and latex. It could dry out in the sink and cause clogs or get into the water treatment system. That would require treatment of these components to remove it from the system.
Q: How about letting unused paint dry before throwing the can in the trash?
A: It takes a long time for the paint to dry. And liquid paint is considered an impurity. There are good reasons not to do this.
Q: Well, thank you – you made it pretty easy for us to do the right thing.
A: Our goal has always been to make recycling easier. We offer 261 year-round drop-off locations in Minnesota. More than 97% of Minnesotans live within 15 miles of a collection point. About half are paint shops; the rest are locally owned hardware stores. A big thank you to Amazon Paint (amazonpaint.com) based in Fridley – no relation to the other Amazon – which recycles latex paint and is a drop-off point. But all drop-off locations, big and small, appreciate advance warning, so it’s a good idea to call ahead.
Q: How do people find a collection point near them?
A: People can find the nearest collection points by visiting our drop-off site locator online and entering their zip code or city and state here: paintcare.org/drop-off-sites/. Anyone with questions about where to drop off leftover paint can call our hotline at 855-PAINT09 (this is 855-724-6809) during normal business hours.
Q: How many color can we deliver?
A: All locations accept up to 5 gallons per visit, which is about five cans. No aerosols (spray paint) or leaking, unlabeled, or empty containers. We also offer direct pickup service for homes and businesses with 100 gallons of paint or more. We will come to you. Visit our website for the form and you can arrange a pickup.
Q: How is the returned color used?
A: Latex goes to Amazon Paints, where about half is recycled into like-new paint in 20 stock colors. Some are sent to Oklahoma, where they are used as alternate daily cover for landfills. Oil paint gets a second life when it becomes fuel for industrial purposes. Only a small amount of paint needs to be incinerated or landfilled.
Q: How successful has the Minnesota Initiative been so far?
A: We have collected 7.5 million gallons since 2014. Over 1 million gallons were collected in Minnesota last year. That’s a pretty good rate. Minnesota has the highest reuse rate – 9% – in the country.
Q: We could also avoid the need for recycling if we were smarter about purchasing. any advice?
A: Measure your walls and then work closely with a retailer. They will help you determine how much paint to buy. Try a color before you buy a gallon. And buy exactly what you need. There’s no point in buying a gallon when a quart will do.