All environmentally preferable paints referred to in this post are waterborne, or water-based, latex paints. Oil-based paints (also known as solvent-based paints, or alkyd paints) are not recommended, because they are not available in low-volatile organic compound (VOC) blends, less toxic formulations, or recycled-content paints. At this time, no North American plant will recycle oil-based paint into recycled paint. All of the collected oil-based paint is blended with fuels and burned for its combustion energy value. Therefore, all references to paint in this post refer to latex paints unless otherwise specified.

Did you know:

  • A growing number of paints are made from recycled paint?
  • Many paints now contain lower levels of VOCs, which helps to reduce the smells and off-gassing that are commonly associated with fresh paint?
  • Less-toxic paints perform well without using heavy metals and other toxic chemicals?

Recycled-content, zero/low-VOC, or less toxic paint is an alternative to traditional paint that offers environmental and health benefits.

Recycled Paint

Purchasing recycled paint is necessary to “close the loop” so that paint collected in recycling programs goes back into a usable commodity. The Product Stewardship Institute estimates that conservatively, at least five percent of all paint sold becomes leftover paint, totaling more than four million gallons of leftover paint each year in California alone.

This leftover paint represents a collection challenge if recycled properly, and an environmental risk if disposed improperly. The four million gallons of leftover paint each year are a potential commodity that can be used to make recycled paint; unfortunately, less than half of the leftover paint is properly collected and recycled each year. The uncollected amounts may be improperly disposed of in trash (ending up in landfills), or may be poured down storm drains (harming aquatic life), or may be poured down sinks (interfering with proper wastewater treatment). When paint can’t be swapped or used, the highest and best use of the leftover paint is to reprocess it into recycled paint.

Much of the collected latex paint is currently being blended as an additive to concrete, or is stock-piled in warehouses waiting for purchase. Paint buyers have an opportunity to improve the entire paint recycling infrastructure and collection through the purchase of recycled paint.

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