Oregon paint recycling plan a national first

PORTLAND — Oregon's first-in-the-nation environmental plan for recycling paint goes into effect today, and consumers will see the price of paint increase with it.

The paint "take back" program was passed by the Legislature in 2009 after similar measures failed in Vermont and Connecticut.

Proponents say it takes the burden off of local government paint recycling programs and shifts it to the people who use it.

The measure governs the recycling of architectural paint, the oil-based and latex paints sold in containers of 5 gallons or less used on the interior and exterior of buildings. It also includes deck coatings, primers, varnishes and wood coatings. The paint will be collected at drop-off centers, reprocessed and then sold.

The pilot program is part of a larger push toward "product stewardship," the idea that manufacturers should take responsibility for what they produce after consumers are done with them. There are currently 50 such laws in 31 states that affect seven types of products, including batteries, mercury-added thermometers and fluorescent lights.

Scott Cassel, executive director of the Boston-based Product Stewardship Institute Inc., said the paint industry was one of the measure's biggest advocates, despite the increase to the cost of their product.

"They understand that product stewardship is a paradigm shift in the country, and they are getting in front of the issue," Cassel said. "This is smart business. They want to develop a system that they can live with.

"This agreement wasn't 100 percent what the government wanted, it wasn't 100 percent what the industry wanted."

Under the measure, one quart to one gallon of paint will cost an additional 75 cents, and anything more than one gallon will increase by $1.60. The surcharge is expected to raise an estimated $4.5 million to pay for the program.

The state estimates the program will save local governments millions of dollars each year, though the exact figure is unclear

The law was written so that the cost increase is passed from paint manufacturers to retailers, and then to consumers. The proceeds from the additional cost go to the program's nonprofit industry-run stewardship organization, PaintCare, which manages the collection, transportation and processing of the paint. The organization will also pay the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality $10,000 annually to oversee the program.

By Wednesday, the program had 38 companies volunteer to participate as drop-off locations along with several hazardous waste collection sites. Cassel said he expects more to join.

Abby Boudouris of the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality said paint is the highest-volume household hazardous waste product the agency deals with.

"A quarter-gallon of leftover paint is not the problem," Boudouris said. "There's a lot more than that in people's garages and basements. We don't want it poured down the drain or in a back alley."

The Department of Environmental Quality will show the program's results to the Legislature by Oct. 1, 2011 and recommend whether the program should continue.

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