state solid and hazardous waste plan update photo identifier

State Solid and Hazardous Waste Plan Update

Photo: Different colors of leftover paint being combined for reuse.
Different colors of leftover paint being combined for reuse.

Paint Recycling and Reuse

Please note:  In order to determine the paint recycling rate, architectural paint sales data was used from the Current Industrial Reports provided by the U.S. Census Bureau. These reports have been discontinued. Therefore, this indicator is currently on hold for further updates.

This indicator estimates the percentage of leftover paint, both latex and oil-based, that is recycled and reused in Washington State.

In 2010, Washington households and businesses purchased approximately 14.1 million gallons of architectural paint. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that about ten percent of all paint purchased in the United States becomes "leftover." Therefore, it is projected that 1.4 million gallons of paint were left over from the paint purchased by Washington residents in 2010.

Leftover paint is the largest volume of material collected by local government household hazardous waste (HHW) collection programs. This indicator uses data reported by the HHW collection programs to estimate the percentage of leftover paint that is reused and recycled.

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Leftover Paint Recycling and Reuse Data

Between 2000 and 2008, the percentage of leftover paint that was reused or recycled increased, peaking in 2007. Several jurisdictions stopped collecting latex paint (but continued to collect oil-based paint) in 2007, so the percentage began to decline after that point. They stopped collecting latex paint because:

  • Latex paint is one of the largest and most expensive waste streams for local HHW programs to manage.
  • Most residential latex paints manufactured after 1992 are not considered hazardous. In 2002, EPA chose not to list latex paint as hazardous.

Some local HHW collection facilities divert leftover paint through their reuse programs, which also saves the facility the cost of disposal. In addition to direct reuse, latex paints are also typically recycled in one of three ways:

  1. The facility mixes like colors and provides this recycled paint to the public.
  2. The facility sends leftover latex paint to a recycler to be made into new paint. Many of these recyclers use the same processes and meet the same standards as regular paint manufacturers.
  3. The paint is used as an additive in Portland cement.

While not considered recycling, some latex paint is processed with other materials and applied as alternative daily cover on landfills.

This indicator has approximately a two-year time lag due to the time involved in gathering, compiling, and analyzing data.

Why should we be concerned about how much paint is reused and recycled?

  • Managing leftover paint is very costly for local government HHW programs and can mean fewer overall resources to manage other wastes.
  • Disposing of large quantities of usable paint in landfills is a waste of valuable resources. Most of this leftover paint could be used to make new paint or products that use paint as an ingredient.
  • Liquid wastes are not supposed to be disposed of in landfills and drying out paint is a burdensome process.
  • Oil-based paints are hazardous due to their toxicity and flammability.

What are the benefits of reusing and recycling paint?

  • Conserves energy and other valuable resources.
  • Reduces greenhouse gas emissions. When using a gallon of recycled paint instead of new paint, about 100 kilowatt hours of energy is saved. This avoids the release of 115 pounds of carbon dioxide that would otherwise be needed to produce that energy.
  • Keeps free-flowing liquids out of solid waste landfills.

What are some Beyond Waste actions being taken to increase paint reuse and recycling in Washington?

Ecology and other organizations are:

  • Working with paint manufacturers and local governments to bring a paint management program to Washington through extended producer responsibility legislation.
  • Closely monitoring the Oregon PaintCare Program and the efforts to implement recently passed legislation for programs in California and Connecticut. The Oregon, California, and Connecticut programs are funded by the paint industry through an assessment added to the retail price of eligible paints. This program would help reduce the financial burden of managing leftover paint by local governments. We will use the lessons learned in Oregon, California, and Connecticut to influence the development of a robust paint extended producer responsibility model program in Washington.
  • Playing an active role in a national product stewardship effort to manage leftover paint.

For more information, contact Gretchen Newman, 360-407-6097.

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This page last updated August 2012