Recycling program paints the way

Minnesota is taking the lead in recycling old paint — and that could help independent dealers.

Since 2004, state and local officials in Minnesota have been meeting with manufacturers and retailers to try to come up with a program to encourage consumers to get rid of unwanted paint. It’s all part of the “Product Stewardship Initiative” (PSI), a recycling program launched in 2000 by 100 government officials in 20 states. The stated goal of PSI is to pursue “initiatives to ensure that all those involved in the lifecycle of a product share responsibility for reducing its health and environmental impacts.”

In addition to paint, PSI categories include carpet, electronics, fluorescent lighting, gas cylinders, mercury products, pesticides, pharmaceuticals, phone books, radioactive devices, thermostats and tires.

Minnesota has become something of a “pilot state” for the paint program, which is expected to start by July 2008. Although there are details that need to be ironed out, it appears that paint manufacturers will add a small “Eco Fee” to each can of paint sold in the state to pay for disposal or recycling — much like the fee added to an invoice when you buy tires or batteries. The fee is expected to be about 25 cents per can.

The Carver County Department of Environmental Services is spearheading the project along with the Northwestern Lumber Association (NLA) and the Minnesota-Dakotas Retail Hardware Association (MDRHA). Ace Hardware and True Value representatives have participated in PSI meetings, as well as Home Depot, Lowe’s and Tremont Paint, a New York-based independent paint dealer.

“One of the things about product stewardship is you try to internalize the cost, not pass it off on the government,” said Leslie Wilson, a representative for the Carver County Department of Environmental Services and PSI project coordinator. “For a long time, the government has been funding collection and management of waste to the tune of millions of dollars. Now it’s time for corporations to turn around and partner with one another and take responsibility for this cost.”

Wilson estimated that the state of Minnesota will collect $2 million to $4 million annually for disposal management and education once the program kicks in.

When a paint recycling program was first discussed in Minnesota four years ago, PSI representatives proposed that retailers be mandated to become recycle collection centers. According to MDRHA executive director Mac Hardin, this didn’t sit too well with hardware stores, and the MDRHA and Minnesota Retailers Association were able to defeat that proposal.

“The problem was, hardware stores are small in nature and many had no place to put the paint cans. Plus, they would have had to pay a fee to get rid of it,” Hardin said. “There’s still a storage problem with the current proposal, but now there’s no fee to get rid of unused paint. In fact, the recycling centers will come and pick it up.”

And unlike the original plan, participation will be optional for hardware stores. Hardin said retailers who do participate will not only be seen as “good neighbors” who care about the community, but they stand to gain financially as well. “Chances are, if someone is bringing in old paint, they may be buying new paint, not to mention the brushes, drop cloths and all that goes along with it,” he said.

The other part of the program is to find uses for the old paint. For example, one Minnesota company has been using leftover paint in a bonding compound, while a Canadian company has found a way to turn old paint into new.

The greater goal of PSI is to eventually develop this program on a national basis. Oregon, Washington and Vermont groups are trying to implement paint recycling programs in 2009, and California, Iowa, Florida, North Carolina and Illinois in 2010.