A group of Washington leaders toured Portland's MetroPaint recycling center last week as they look at whether to launch a paint-recycling program in their state.
Metro's MetroPaint recycling program, on Swan Island in Portland, processes more than 255,000 gallons of paint each year. That drew the interest of a delegation from Olympia, which toured MetroPaint on Oct. 30.
One of those on the tour was Rep. Strom Peterson, D-Edmonds, who said he's looking for better solutions for his constituents.
“In Washington, pretty much no county has paint pickup. They used to – they used to be able to take it at a drop off point. But it’s so expensive that the counties stopped doing it,” Peterson said. This leaves him and many constituents, he said, with partial cans of paint in their garage and nothing to do with them.
“They recommend you can leave the paint can open and let it dry out, or you can pour kitty litter into it and it will dry out and then you can throw it away without contaminating the environment,” Peterson said. “It’s a waste.”
MetroPaint, part of Metro’s system for managing hazardous waste, has a different solution. The facility has been working to reduce the amount of reusable latex paint going to landfills through repacking and reselling it for 23 years.
For the past five years, MetroPaint has partnered with PaintCare, an organization that works to make recycling paint more convenient in states with paint stewardship laws. PaintCare, in turn, is funded through a small fee on new cans of paint.
MetroPaint, on Swan Island, recycles latex based paints that are recovered from 37 collection points in the Portland metro area. The paints are combined into 18 standard colors and certain limited edition colors.
Much of the process is in sorting. The facility employs 13 workers from DePaul Industries to work in the sorting area where there are 20 sinks that empty to paint-filled tanks below the room.
After their contents have been sorted, empty cans have a hole punched in the bottom of them so they can dry out and are picked up by Metro Metals, a private company not affiliated with Metro regional government. Metro Metals recycles 60 tons of steel paint cans from the facility each year.
Once a tank of paints is filled, it needs to be matched to the color standard. To do this, employees start by taking a standard color and painting it on paper. Then, a sample of the new paint is spread over a small section of the painted standard.
If the new color needs adjusting, different colors of paint, never tints or dyes, are added to a pint size can of the new color to adjust it, repeating the process as many times as needed to figure out how much of those colors should be added to the actual tank to make the color right.
“If it’s a standard color, it will be the same shade,” said Andrew Staab, site supervisor. “What we tell people is, if you paint to a corner of a room, paint one batch here and the next batch on the other wall, you’ll never be able to tell the difference.”
Once the proper color is determined, certain additives are put into the paint to control for biological contaminants that previous brushes may have introduced from the walls the original paints were painted on. A dry film preservative is also added.
Next, viscosity is measured, and the paint is tested for hiding power, meaning it is checked to make sure that nothing underneath the paint will show through, and also tested to ensure it can stand up to the scrubbing walls take when they are cleaned.
Then comes the canning process. On its way to the cans, the paint passes through three filters to remove any non-liquid particles. Solid pieces as tiny as grains of sand are removed to ensure that consumers may use the product any way they like, including through spray guns, without damaging their equipment.
“The quality of the paint is as good as any medium quality paint that you can buy – better than a lot of knock-off or b-brands, maybe not as good as your $40 a gallon,” said Jim Quinn, Metro’s hazardous waste program manager.
The paint has environmental benefits and a price that’s lower than most other products, selling at about $12 a gallon at more than 70 locations in Oregon, Washington and Idaho.
The facility is financially self-supporting, with sales and PaintCare recycling fees paying to recycle 255,000 gallons of paint each year.
Peterson seemed to think the program was an all around good idea and was hopeful of the program's prospects in the Evergreen State.
“We’re still working through it. We’re trying to work with different groups and constituents to get behind this, but we’re feeling pretty excited about it,” Peterson said. “The more I get into this, the more benefits I see.”