Recyling is giving old paint new life

Millions of gallons that might otherwise end up in landfills is being cleaned and resold to the public for a fraction of regular retail prices.

By Bruce Kennedy Apr 25, 2013 9:13AM

Paint cans in a landfill (Johner Images/Alamy)Warning: Spring cleaning can be hazardous to your leisure time because it points out all the other jobs that need doing around the house. Start cleaning, and you may soon find yourself doing touch-ups or even painting whole rooms. And that's exactly what the U.S. paint and coatings industry, with its combined annual sales of around $20 billion, expects of us.

According to the national home color survey by industry giant Sherwin-Williams (SHW), 62% of homeowners are planning a painting project this spring.

So, the question becomes, after the drop cloths are picked up and the brushes washed, what to do with that extra paint? Some will go into basements or closets for future use. But a study by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates about 10% of all the house paint purchased each year -- up to 69 million gallons -- ends up discarded, often in landfills. And according to the EPA, paint is the single most "voluminous and expensive" hazardous household waste that most local governments collect and manage.

That has led to a number of companies springing up in recent years to sell recycled latex paints to the public for a fraction of what similar-quality paints would cost at a typical retailer.

GreenSheen started business in a Denver suburb three years ago, taking in leftover latex paint from homeowners, contractors and facilities that manage hazardous materials. It also accepts incorrectly tinted paint and returned items from retail stores and paint distributors looking to liquidate their surplus inventory.

"We take it, run it through a process of recycling and turn it back into a professional grade paint, and remarket it back to the consumer at about a 75% discount." GreenSheen owner Kevin Callahan told KUSA-TV last summer.

The industry itself is also getting involved. The American Coatings Association has launched PaintCare, a nonprofit organization that works with state and local governments to responsibly collect and dispose of "post-consumer" paint in a cost-efficient manner. The program, currently running in California and Oregon, should be launched in Connecticut and Rhode Island in the near future.

Paint recycling is "growing in popularity everyday, and we are getting busier the more people learn about this process," said GreenSheen's Kevin Callahan. "I think the biggest problem is that people don't even know that it's possible.”

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