The steward of leftover paint

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With nearly 10 percent of architectural paints going unused each year, there is a clear risk of harmful chemicals and heavy metals being discharged into the soil. The nonprofit PaintCare, now in its second year in New York, and its local Rochester partners are working to change that.

“It’s been great working with them,” says Thomas Thorpe, paint manager at Mayer Paint and Hardware. “Customers appreciate it and we look like heroes even though it’s actually just a simple set up and really convenient for us.”

“And if we’re talking about soil, we’re talking about groundwater really. It’s extremely important to make sure you’re dealing with it in the right way,” says Andrew Radin, PaintCare program manager for New York State. “While the best approach is just not to overbuy in the first place, we want to make sure that leftover paint is easy to dispose of.”

In 2010, PaintCare began as a pilot program in Oregon, where it collected paint for safe disposal and recycling across the state. Now, it serves as the nonprofit organization responsible for paint stewardship programs in Washington, D.C., and 11 states, including New York. It is a program of the American Coatings Association, a membership-based trade association of the paint manufacturing industry. 

The organization partners with local stores that act as drop-off sites for leftover paint. PaintCare collects the material and sends it to a paint recycling center, which can reuse it for new paint or fuel, or to a disposal facility, in the case of oil-based paints.

Whether it be from household do-it-yourself projects or professional businesses, leftover paint is accepted in all amounts within a drop-off site’s approved limit, usually determined based on storage space. While PaintCare also collects larger amounts through its special site events or large volume pickup program, drop-off sites still make up most of PaintCare’s collection efforts.

“Retailers who voluntarily take on this responsibility of being a drop-off site, they’re really the critical link. We couldn’t do as much as we do without them,” says Kelsey O’Toole, PaintCare program coordinator.

In fact, the storage space for paint collection at Mayer recently filled up when a series of drop-offs quickly occurred. Thorpe says PaintCare came the very next day for a pickup and gives kudos to O’Toole for her help.

In New York, PaintCare has collected over 1.5 million gallons of paint in 333 year-round drop-off locations, large volume pickups, door-to-door programs and special event sites.

According to its latest annual report, Monroe County had the 11th-highest paint collection among counties from 2022 to 2023 with over 24,000 gallons of paint picked up. The largest single collection was a large-volume pickup of more than 1,000 gallons from RW Dake Construction’s corporate office in East Rochester. Erie County collected the most in that time frame with over 72,000 gallons.

PaintCare prides itself on having extensive coverage, with 98 percent of the state being within 15 miles of a drop-off site. Based on population, the organization is required to have at least 14 sites locally. Sixteen exist in Monroe County, and four drop-off locations are just over the county line in Victor, Honeoye Falls, and LeRoy.

“We’re always looking for and happy to include more participants, of course,” says O’Toole. “But for sure Rochester is well represented with drop-off sites.”

On a per-capita basis, however, the county was well below average with only 32 gallons collected per 1,000 people, compared with 82 gallons per-capita statewide. Columbia and Greene counties had the best per-capita ratio, collecting over 260 gallons per 1,000 people.

Radin and O’Toole say the program has made good progress since its inception, but awareness and education remain areas PaintCare wants to improve. For example, the “PaintCare fee” applied to paint purchases is not a tax or deposit, but goes toward funding the nonprofit’s operations.

In addition, surveys conducted by PaintCare showed that the awareness of recycling programs actually fell from 2022 to 2023 in New York among non-professionals who bought paint.

“We want to make sure everyone knows the best way to deal with their leftover paint in a way that’s responsible and good for the environment,” Radin says. “As a relatively new program in New York, we’re happy with the progress we’ve made so far.”

He notes new paint reprocessing centers and reblending processes are being used in New York. Also, even more states will be instituting paint stewardship programs in the future, with Illinois set to begin next year and Missouri and Massachusetts currently considering it as well.

“I think a lot of people are seeing its environmental value now and how it can have this positive impact,” says Radin.

Jacob Schermerhorn is a Rochester Beacon contributing writer and data journalist. The Beacon welcomes comments and letters from readers who adhere to our comment policy including use of their full, real name. Submissions to the Letters page should be sent to [email protected]

2 thoughts on “The steward of leftover paint

  1. This is great to read. Where I lived prior to moving here, the Habitat ReStore sold reblended paint. So I’m happy to see a program here.

  2. Good stuff! By the way, I remember Mayer Hardware when it was located (founded) on East Main Street. It was next to the “Sweet Shop”. (1965) It’s not easy to survive in the world of those major home stores. Apparently they are doing something right. Congrats and keep it going!

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