Some of the metallic colors available only at MetroPaint’s Swan Island store.
For the past two years, Metro has been a partner in a successful national pilot program to responsibly manage leftover consumer paint
In 2009, the Oregon legislature passed a law establishing the Oregon Paint Stewardship Pilot Program, which requires the paint industry to take responsibility for leftover architectural paint in the state. The goal was to create a financially sustainable system for the final disposition of paint, emphasizing reuse first, then recycling and energy recovery, and finally, disposal of unusable elements.
At the Swan Island MetroPaint facility, recycled paint waits to be transformed into MetroPaint. The number one paint made into MetroPaint is Oregon-based Miller Paint, which is also a retail seller of MetroPaint.
Long before the pilot program began, Metro accepted paint at its two household hazardous waste facilities and at community events. Since 1992, when paint collection began, Metro has remanufactured over 1.2 million gallons of latex paint into MetroPaint – essentially, new paint made from unwanted but high-quality paint.
It is sold at 45 retailers in Oregon and Washington and at MetroPaint’s store on Swan Island in Portland. For every gallon of MetroPaint used instead of new paint, about 100 kilowatt-hours of energy are saved and an estimated 115 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions are prevented.
But this system, despite its many environmental benefits, offered limited collection facilities and no industry engagement. In addition, Jim Quinn, manager of Metro’s Hazardous Waste Program, noted, "MetroPaint sales covered only two-third to three-fourths of our operating costs." These costs included collecting, transporting and remanufacturing the paint.
To expand paint recycling and make it a more sustainable endeavor in 2009, Oregon teamed with the paint manufacturers’ newly-formed nonprofit, PaintCare, to fund the collection, reuse or disposal of industry products. The program is funded by a nominal, per-container paint recovery fee. Metro’s Quinn said, "With PaintCare our costs are now fully covered."
The paint stewardship path, from original manufacturer to collection of unused paint
Annually, almost a half million gallons of paint are collected in the state. Here is how paint gets recycled in Oregon today, under the paint stewardship program:
Shelley E. submitted this photograph on Yelp. It shows her home, painted with recycled MetroPaint, the Oregon paint made from recycled paint. She writes, “I really love MetroPaint. I used all MetroPaint on my house and it is just as good as the expensive paint you buy at [a home improvement store] or [another home improvement store].”
Manufacturers of new paint must register as a PaintCare participant. They pay a recovery fee to PaintCare for every paint container sold in Oregon. This fee, based on the container size, is added to the wholesale cost to distributors and retailers; 35 cents for less than a gallon, 75 cents for a gallon and $1.60 for 1 to 5 gallons.
This recovery fee is the vital element that makes the program financially sustainable.
Retail paint sellers such as Miller Paint add the recovery fee to the price of the paint. Retailers also provide point-of-sale PaintCare educational materials and can choose whether to be a state collection site for unwanted paint.
Consumers pay the recovery fee when they purchase a container of new architectural paint. At www.paintcare.org and 1-800-CLEANUP, they can find nearby paint collection sites. In June 2012, with 99 sites throughout the state, over 70 percent of Oregonians have a collection site within 15 miles of their home. When an Oregonian takes a can of paint to a collection site, the evaluation process begins. The paint will be reused, recycled or landfilled.
The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality supports the PaintCare pilot program because of the program’s ability to minimize paint’s environmental impacts, from its manufacture to its disposal. In its oversight role , DEQ ensures that manufacturers of paint products sold in Oregon participate in the program. It is also working with Oregon legislators to make the paint stewardship program permanent; currently the pilot program sunsets in June 2014.
The paint collection system in Oregon
Paint is collected at 99 sites throughout the state, including government-run hazardous waste facilities and special events, paint stores, home improvement centers and nonprofit sellers of repurposed building products such as Habitat ReStores, as well as on-site pick-up to trade painters, apartment complexes, housing authorities and other private businesses.
PaintCare contracts with PSC, a national environmental service company, to provide empty container bins and transport them when full to a consolidation location. There, products are sorted for processing – latex paint for recycling and alkyd paint for fuel blending.
After collection, a paint product’s fate depends on the type of product and its condition. A latex paint product may be directly reused by nonprofits such as Habitat for Humanity. This happens when a paint container is half to completely full, and it is more cost-effective to use it for its intended purpose than to transport and reblend it into a new can of paint – about 3 percent of paint received.
It can also be reblended with other interior and exterior latex paint of all sheens into one of 18 colors of environmentally-friendly MetroPaint or into one of its seasonal or "potpourri colors" whose availability is dependent on paint received, about 53 percent of the paint that comes in.
About 16 percent is used for industrial purposes, and 28 percent is landfilled via a biodegredation process.
About 97 percent of oil-based paints are either used as a fuel blend; the rest is reused for its original purpose.
From both types of collection venues, latex paint is transported to Metro’s Swan Island facility in Portland. There, it is evaluated for its quality; paint that meets various quality control checks is screened, reblended into one of 18 standard colors (and a changing variety of specialty colors), mixed with additives such as mildew inhibitors, and poured into quarts, 1-gallon cans and 5-gallon buckets, to be sold as MetroPaint.
What happens to paint not suitable for reblending into MetroPaint?
High quality latex paint that is suitable for reblending at Metro’s Swan Island MetroPaint facility but does not match the color demands of the U.S. market does not go to waste; Metro partners with exporters who find end users. Metro’s Quinn noted, "U.S. paints are valued for their quality in the developing world. We export grays and browns, and sometimes greens or orange colors."
Latex paint collected in the Portland metro area that is not high enough quality to reblend into MetroPaint is removed from the MetroPaint facility by PSC. The paint, along with wastewater from the paint recycling process, is pumped into a tanker truck and hauled to the Columbia Ridge Landfill in Arlington. This solid waste landfill is one of a few nationwide with a permit to test the biodegradation approach to solid waste landfilling. In contrast to the traditional dry entombment model, in biodegradation, liquid circulates into the solid waste, accelerating degradation. This reduces the landfill’s mass, allowing more waste to be placed, and quickly produces gas that can be extracted and used as an energy source.
Seasonal colors are posted above sinks (under boards here); paint is sorted and poured into the appropriate sink. After blending, paint samples from 300-gallon batches are painted onto color swatches and the batch is adjusted with the addition of appropriate paint colors until the color matches the swatch.
Latex paint collected outside the Portland metro area that is unsuitable for recycling is sent to Amazon Environmental, a private manufacturer of recycled latex paints in California. There, waste paint is combined with mineral-rich wastes such as lime kiln dust into a new product, PLP, that replaces shale, clay or limestone that would otherwise have been mined for the manufacture of the cement. Amazon also uses waste paint to manufacture PWP, a biomass fuel product. The waste paint is used to bind wood dust, chips and other high BTU-value materials so they can be used as a fuel source.
Oil or alkyd paints cannot be reblended into MetroPaint. Environmental service provider PSC removes such paint from collection sites across Oregon. The alkyd or oil paint is transported to specially outfitted cement plants, where it is used as part of the fuel to fire the plants’ kilns.
MetroPaint has a 20-year record of successfully recycling a product that has historically been difficult to dispose of. With the Oregon Paint Stewardship program, it has new partners—the paint industry, retailers and consumers—who are helping keep even more paint out of the waste stream and onto surfaces, where it belongs.