Got paint? Many people have gallons of leftover paint stowed in their garages, basements and sheds. Paint accounts for about 50 percent of most household hazardous waste (HHW) programs’ disposal costs and can cost up to $8 a gallon to manage. But instead of viewing it as trash, it should be viewed as a valuable commodity. Properly collecting, recycling and redistributing paint and the containers it comes in will conserve resources, protect the environment and create jobs.

The California Product Stewardship Council (CPSC) is working to make an economic resource out of many costly-to-manage waste products, including paint. The organization is completing a three-county project in California that assists paint manufacturers with the collection and management of leftover paint. The program will impact every paint purchaser and user in the state and could be a model for other states as well.

Leftover paint is a significant economic and environmental problem for local governments across California, as it is for jurisdictions in most states. This article will explain the problem, detail how it is being solved in California and suggest how that solution can be applied across the country.

Local Color

The California Department of Resources, Recovery and Recycling (CalRecycle), used a grant to foster a partnership between CPSC and three counties: San Joaquin (primarily suburban/agricultural), Tehama (primarily rural) and San Francisco (primarily urban). Together the participants are known as the “Be Paint Wise Partnership.” The partnership’s primary goals are:

  • To educate consumers about how to buy the right amount of paint.
  • To establish paint “swaps,” where leftover paint can be redistributed to those who need it.
  • To establish convenient take-back locations for paint recycling.
  • To encourage the purchase of recycled-content paint.
  • To develop a statewide product stewardship program for paint, which will be handed over to paint manufacturers operating in the state.
  •  The lessons learned from this grant and the results of focus groups and barrier studies are explained below.