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January 2007

Latex paint recycling standard

The crew at Amazon Environmental sorting/bulking post-consumer paint and crushing steel cans.

With the completion of a national Green Seal environmental standard for recycled-content latex paint, the future looks bright for the expansion of the latex paint recycling industry and should sales of paint increase, so should the recycling rate.

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in a recent study estimated that 64 million gallons of leftover latex paint are created annually. This is equivalent to 10 percent of all paint sold annually.

Much of this paint either ends up in garages, landfills or poured into a drain.

Recycled paint incorporates unused paint collected from consumers as well as excess from the original paint manufacturing process, thereby reducing the disposal of paint. Americans generate between 50 and 130 million gallons of leftover paint each year.

“Creating a Green Seal environmental standard for recycled paint could have the two-fold effect of increasing the demand for recycled paint and saving taxpayer disposal dollars,” says Scott Cassel, the executive director of the Product Stewardship Institute (PSI). “In addition to consumer applications, this effort is likely to boost the use of recycled paint by federal, state, and local governments. Consumers are now being given independent verification of recycled paint’s performance, which will lead to better informed purchasing decisions.

“A significant number of communities around the country are collecting leftover paint,” he adds, “but there is also a significant number that do not have any programs at all.”

The PSI and Green Seal, Inc. announced the completion of a national Green Seal environmental standard for recycled-content latex paint on August 9, a standard that is aimed at assuring consumers that recycled paint, in addition to being environmentally beneficial, can perform as well as virgin paint, both in terms of ease of application and quality and longevity of finish.

The agreement to develop the recycled paint standard was one of 11 projects that resulted from the national Paint Product Stewardship Initiative (PPSI), a dialogue facilitated by the PSI that includes more than 60 stakeholders, including paint manufacturers, recyclers, painting contractors and government agencies.

PSI organized the initiative in 2003 around the issue of reducing paint waste. The project to develop the recycled paint standard was funded by the California Integrated Waste Management Board, San Joaquin County in California, Portland Metro in Oregon, and the Dunn-Edwards Corporation.

Consumer concern over paint performance is one of the greatest impediments to increasing the use of recycled paint. The Master Painters Institute (MPI), a nationally recognized paint performance certification organization, worked with Green Seal and PSI on the performance portion of the standard.

The paint meets the same MPI performance standards used for virgin paint in any given category. The final standard takes into account the quality, performance, and safety of recycled paint, as well as environmental attributes.

“Companies now need to get certified,” says Cassel, who notes that a financing system for recycled paint is another hurdle to tackle. “That is the question at the heart of the dialogue. We’re not at the point where we have that solution yet. At this point, the agreement we have as a workgroup is that we will develop these projects and the results would inform our decisions on what type of financing system would be needed to manage leftover latex and oil-based paints.”

To be examined are the financing systems used in four Canadian provinces for the management of leftover paint. The paint dialogue group will be evaluating many other financing examples, including some that require legislation and others that are based on voluntary agreements.

“In order to reduce environmental impact, we need to better manage leftover paint,” says Cassel, “a cost that consumers end up paying. We are looking at ways to reduce the overall costs to the system and create markets for the paint, so that any additional costs would be negligible in the beginning and hopefully over time, would be eliminated as the value of the collected material grows. The dialogue is based on shared responsibility and that means each stakeholder has a certain role.

Ben Addlestone, an environmental scientist with Green Seal, is hoping that more recyclers of recycled latex paint will apply for certification

“We’re already starting to see some people applying to be certified according to the standard,” he says.

Paints that meet the standard will earn the Green Seal of approval, and will be able to display the Green Seal Certification Mark, which is a registered mark.

Dunn-Edwards, which ranks among the nation’s top 10 paint manufacturers in terms of production and sales, believes that it is important to recycle paint and has formed a cooperative venture with Amazon Environmental, Inc., a recycler of latex paint. Both companies pooled their resources to develop procedures for the manufacturing process.

“We hope that manufacturers will proceed to seek certification and develop markets for recycled paint,” says Robert Wendoll, Dunn-Edwards director of environmental affairs, “primarily with the specifiers and purchasing agents for both government and private projects who have considerable influence over volume purchasing of paint.”

Wendoll indicated, “The problem we have with latex paint is the unwanted leftover paint, which is really not a waste, but a resource and how we best utilize that resource is one question.”

He adds that a national legislation, whatever the type of system it requires, could be a time consuming approach.

“National legislation could take years to enact,” explains Wendoll, “but it is possible for the various states and EPA to coordinate an approach that may not require federal legislation.”

Wendoll says that significant market barriers need to be overcome, particularly when many question the quality of recycled paint.

“It is a surprisingly good value and it is possible to manufacture latex paint that has reasonably good quality and is a consistently safe product,” he says. “We’ve had five years experience with it. Other paint manufacturing companies are investigating the possibilities at this point. They have not decided to engage in paint recycling, but they certainly see there is some viability in the process. Ultimately a large-scale solution is going to require the participation of the larger companies.

“It will do no good for more manufacturers to get involved, however, if nobody is willing to buy and use the material,” he adds. “If that is the case, then all we are doing is storing recycled paint in warehouses that become, in effect, permanent aboveground waste storage facilities. This would be especially wasteful as recycling is an industrial process that consumes energy and resources.”

For more details on the Green Seal standard, visit

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