More than 70 million gallons of discarded household paint wind up in the nation’s landfills each year, and untold gallons more remain stored away in attics, basements and garages in sticky, dented containers. About 10 percent of all paint sold is wasted, and many homeowners don’t know what to do with the leftovers. Now, a bill working its way through the Maine Legislature would direct manufacturers to supply paint recyling efforts wherever their products are sold. But as Jennifer Mitchell reports, the question is, who pays?
It’s an industry-sponsored bill, modeled after legislation already in effect in Oregon. Basically, how it works is this: For each gallon of paint purchased, an extra fee would be charged to the consumer at the point of sale. That fee would go to offset other fees charged to the retailer and the wholesaler by the paint’s manufacturer, to cover the cost of a paint recycling program. Currently, it’s municipalities that are handling unwanted paint. Lots of it.
Right now, we accept around 6000 gallons of oil-based paint every year at our facility and it consumes about 30% of our hazardous waste budget every year.
Troy Moon who manages waste for the city of Portland, says the facility doesn’t even accept latex-based paints, and those represent the vast majority of paints sold in Maine. “The costs associated with handling those products would be too much for us to bear on our current budget,” he says.
Consumers, he says, are told to dry out their latex paints and throw them away, where they then enter a landfill. Such practice is not ideal, says Abby King from the Natural Resources Council of Maine. She says sometimes those paints don’t even make it to the landfill.
“At best it’s being put in the trash, at worst it’s being kept in liquid form and put in the dumpster, and even worse than that it’s being poured down the drains,” she says.
The city of Portland is suporting LD 1308, because it not only creates a system where manufacturers can take back that unused paint, but they say it would also save taxpayers money by lessening the strain on the city’s waste department resources.
But what opponents don’t like is how the paint recycling program would be funded. “We are concerned that this fee is a new tax on the price of paint,” says Curtis Picard, executive director of the Retail Association of Maine.
Picard says that, currently, the plan calls for adding a fee of about 75 cents to each gallon of paint sold, so in effect, the whole cost of the program is being borne by consumers, not the industry. More specifically, this fee would be paid to a nonprofit organization called PaintCare, which was established in part by the American Coatings Association. PaintCare would either supply funding to current municipal facilities, or establish new paint collection sites around the state.
But Picard says he has questions about oversight and program accountibility as it grows in Oregon and California, and as more money is collected. He says he wants to know if the fees ever get reassessed and what happens to surplus money.
“You know, as I understand it, it’s now a $30 million-a-year program with just the two states on board. How big is it going to be once Connecticut and Rhode Island are on board, and where are those funds actually going?”
Picard also says that retailers should not be expected to recycle or take back products unless they want to. He says the retail industry is already in danger of being overburdened by recycling programs for everything from mattresses and carpets to cell phones.
If the bill survives the Environmental and Natural Resources Committee, and is approved by the Legislature, Maine could be the fifth state in the nation to enact such a bill, with Connecticut and Rhode Island just joining that list this year.