DC’s PaintCare program turns 1!

Ida Arabshahi, District of Colombia PaintCare Program Manager smiles during a successful paint drop-off day at the D.C. Armory.

November marks the one-year anniversary of PaintCare Inc’s operations in DC Why is this such a milestone?  Imagine a swimming pool that’s 25 feet long, 15 feet wide, and 10 feet deep filled with paint.  That’s how much paint DC residents have recycled and diverted away from the landfill since the program’s debut in the District last year. That’s more than 28,000 gallons of paint!

The DC Department of Energy and Environment (DOEE) knew they needed to find a way to divert paint from the waste stream in order for the District to meet its 2032 goal of diverting 80 percent of waste away from landfills over 2014 levels. They’ve been pleasantly surprised by the overwhelmingly positive response they’ve received from the public about the PaintCare program. DOEE Director Tommy Wells notes, “We’re very pleased that in just the first year of our PaintCare partnership, we’ve been able to divert such a significant amount of paint away from the landfill. This program provides residents and businesses with the resources they need to take actions that are helping the District meet our citywide waste diversion goals.”

And, DC’s enthusiasm about the program is real.  At a recent DOEE and PaintCare paint drop-off event at the DC Armory on Saturday, November 18, more than 220 cars circulated through the parking lot to drop off unwanted paint in just a four-hour period. A semi-trailer was more than half full of paint that would be recycled.

So, what exactly happens to this paint once it’s dropped off? According to DOEE, more than 77 percent of paint collected in the District is recycled.  Unwanted paint is packed into larger containers at the drop-off sites. The paint is then transported to a facility where it is sorted by type. Per PaintCare, most of the better latex paint (paint that is not rusty, molding or spoiled) is sent to recycling companies and reprocessed into new paint in standard pre-tinted colors. Meanwhile, most of the oil-based paint is taken to cement plants where it is blended into a fuel and burned to recover the energy value. Some latex paint is used to make other products or used for biodegradation projects at landfills. Less than 5 percent of the paint ends up in landfills.  Overall about 1-2 percent of the paint received is in excellent condition and given away “as is” or donated to groups such as Habitat for Humanity for sale in their stores.

In addition to the large-scale drop-off events, PaintCare has partnered with eight DC businesses to serve as permanent drop-off locations across the District. Those locations are listed at https://www.paintcare.org/drop-off-locations/#/find-a-drop-off-site. Residents can also take their unwanted paint to the Department of Public Works Fort Totten Transfer Station on Saturdays, any time between 8:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m.

Per the PaintCare website, drop off sites have limits on how much paint they can accept, but they all take at least five gallons of paint per visit and some sites take more. DC businesses that generate less than 220 pounds of hazardous waste per month can participate in the program as well and recycle both water and oil-based paint – with some restrictions on quantities – every month.Those businesses that generate more than 220 pounds of hazardous waste per month may use drop-off sites for water-based paint only (not oil-based products). It’s always best to call the site before bringing your paint to ask if they have enough space to accept the amount of paint you would like to recycle. For residents and businesses with large amounts of unwanted paint (200+ gallons), PaintCare offers a free large volume pickup service. This service is only available to households or businesses with at least 200 gallons of paint. Additional information is available at https://www.paintcare.org/pickup/.

There are limits to what the PaintCare program will accept. House paint and primers, stains, sealers, and clear coatings (e.g., shellac and varnish) are all acceptable, no matter how old they are.  The program does not accept aerosols (spray cans), solvents, and products intended for industrial or non-architectural use. Paint must be in its original container and the container must have a label and a secured lid. Leaking or cans without lids are also not acceptable.

PaintCare Inc is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization representing paint manufacturers (paint producers) that implements paint stewardship programs in U.S. states and jurisdictions that pass paint stewardship laws. Eight U.S. States and DC operate PaintCare programs.  In DC, PaintCare has partnered with the DC Department of Energy and Environment (DOEE) to implement the District’s paint recycling program.

So, the next time you come up with a usable batch of paint you no longer need, keep that label intact and drop it off at a PaintCare drop off.  Someone can make good use of it – and keep it out of the landfill!


 Catherine Plume is a lifelong environmentalist, a writer, and blogger for the DC Recycler: www.DCRecycler.blogspot.com; Twitter: @DC_Recycler.  She is also a Board Member of the DC Chapter of the Sierra Club and Green America, however, her perspectives are her own and do not necessarily represent the positions of either organization.