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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Opinion >  Guest Opinion

Nick DiBartolo and Kim Harless: Painting a brighter future: How Washingtonians came together to give old paint new life

By Nick DiBartolo and Kim Harless

By Nick DiBartolo and Kim Harless

Up until last April, unless you were lucky enough to live in just a few areas of Washington with additional solutions, the only option for managing leftover paint was to stack it in a dark corner of your basement or garage, lost among numerous other who-knows-how-old steel cans, to become a rusting pile of Linen White, Agreeable Grey, and Meyer Lemon-colored paint remains. Making matters worse, if you wanted to dispose of latex paint you’d have to dry it out completely before throwing it away only for it to end up in a landfill.

Now, leftover paint has a chance at a useful second life throughout the entire state.

According to the Product Stewardship Institute (PSI), “About 10 percent of all household latex and oil-based paint goes unused in the U.S. – that’s about 80 million gallons each year.” Fortunately, a new statewide program called PaintCare makes it easy to safely recycle your longtime basement tenants.

Guided by Washington’s paint stewardship law (SHB 1652) that was passed by the state legislature and signed into law by Governor Inslee in 2019, PaintCare’s Washington recycling program launched on April 1, 2021. In its first nine months of operation, the program collected 581,363 gallons of paint, diverting most of it out of landfills and putting it to beneficial use. Now, a year into the program, PaintCare estimates that Washingtonians have dropped off approximately 842,000 gallons of unwanted paint.

The program makes it easier than ever for households and businesses to drop off leftover house paint, stain, and varnish for recycling at a network of 209 drop-off sites throughout the state. These include conveniently located paint retail, hardware, reuse and lumber stores open during normal business hours, as well as locally managed government facilities.

Once the paint is dropped off, PaintCare ensures that as much as possible is reused, recycled into new paint products, or put to some other beneficial use. Latex-based products make up about 80% of what PaintCare accepts at drop-off sites; most is transported to processors and used to manufacture recycled-content paint. Latex paint is made available for immediate reuse, used for concrete mixtures, landscaping materials, or as a component of daily cover for landfill management. A small percentage of dry latex paint is securely disposed of if no other use can be found. Oil-based paint makes up a small portion of the total and is reused, used in energy recovery in waste-energy-plants or cement kilns, or incinerated if no other use can be found for it.

Since its launch last year, there has been a lot about PaintCare for Washingtonians to like, including reducing landfill waste, taking the burden of paint management off local governments, saving businesses money on disposal costs, and relieving households from storing waste materials.

The program is affordable too. To fund the program, consumers pay a nominal fee when purchasing paint (called the PaintCare fee). Paint manufacturers pass the fee revenue to PaintCare to set up and operate drop-off sites, collect and transport paint, process and recycle it, and educate the public about the stewardship program. It’s a small price to pay for substantial long-term savings and environmental benefits.

Convenient paint recycling may be the fairytale ending of this story, but the characters and plot also demand our attention here.

Washington’s program follows similar paint stewardship programs enacted in nine other states and the District of Columbia. Thanks to support from the paint industry and the American Coatings Association, Washington’s Department of Ecology, the Product Stewardship Institute, the Northwest Product Stewardship Council, and Zero Waste Washington, the way was paved for PaintCare to operate a full, statewide program that proactively reaches crucial milestones for sustainability and public health since its April launch one year ago.

Nationally, PaintCare has collected more than 55 million gallons of paint from households and businesses since its first program launched in Oregon in 2009. Since then, PaintCare has partnered with more than 2,000 new drop-off sites, most located at paint and hardware retail stores. In addition, PaintCare has managed paint from more than 5,800 paint collection events and provided more than 6,000 free pickups for households, businesses, and organizations with at least 100 gallons of paint to recycle (including over 300 such pickups in Washington in its first year alone).

A successful collaboration between the private sector, nonprofits, and government agencies, PaintCare demonstrates the type of results that are possible, and increasingly necessary, when efforts are made to meet a collective goal. The results in just the first year of implementation show the impact of the PaintCare program and its potential for continued growth.

The PaintCare model in Washington provides a scalable blueprint for how stakeholders and consumers can work together to turn used paint, a common waste product, into a beneficial resource. Other states can and should use this model to their own benefit and advantage. For Washingtonians, we no longer have to watch paint dry. Go forth and rid your basement of old paint, and together we can help make a difference, one can at a time.

Nick DiBartolo, of Spokane, and Kim Harless, of Vancouver, Washington, are Washington program coordinators for PaintCare.

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