NJ Lawmakers Advance Plan to Reduce and Reuse Unwanted Paint

Expanded program, paid for by new fee on paint purchases, would require collection sites within 15 miles of 90% of residents
Credit: Jack Douglass/Unsplash
The bill requires paint producers or their representatives to develop and implement a stewardship plan that promotes reuse and recycling.

About those half-empty paint cans that have been languishing in your garage for years: Do you put them in the trash, fill them with kitty litter and take them to the local dump, or just empty the contents down the drain?

The answer should be  “none of the above,” according to supporters of a bill that was approved by a large bipartisan majority, 57 to 20, in the Assembly on Monday, is now headed to the Senate Appropriations Committee, and then, backers hope, to the governor’s desk.

Bill A-4382 would boost the reuse and recycling of unwanted architectural paint by starting a collection program funded by a fee charged on every can of paint. It aims to boost the current rate of collection by towns and counties, which currently pay hundreds of thousands of dollars a year to dispose of the material.

And it would require producers, distributors and retailers of paint to participate in an “architectural paint stewardship program” as approved by the Department of Environmental Protection. The bill defines architectural paint as any interior coating that’s sold in cans of five gallons or less; the definition excludes industrial or specialty coatings.

“Paint recycling is a huge problem,” said Dennis Hart, executive director of the Chemistry Council of New Jersey, a trade group that represents paint manufacturers. “Everybody in this state and across the country has cans of paint in their basement or garage. They don’t know what to do with it; they either leave it there or try and pawn it off on the next homeowner, or they throw it in the trash and it ends up in the environment.”

The bill requires every paint producer or its representatives to develop and implement a stewardship plan that promotes reuse and recycling by arranging for collection, transportation, burning for energy recovery, and disposal using environmentally sound practices.

“We think it’s a good step forward,” said Hart. “It’s an industry-supported program that says: ‘We want to be proactive in managing the product cradle to grave.’”

A per-gallon fee

Hart said 10 other states plus the District of Columbia have already begun similar programs and have so far collected some 40 million gallons of paint, 85% of which has been reused. The fee that would pay for the program is expected to be 75-85 cents a gallon in the first year, when the volume of paint collected is likely to be greatest, he said. (The purchaser of the paint pays the fee.) After an initial rush of paint collections, DEP will review the fee to see if it’s the correct amount, Hart said.

The money would be used to pay the costs of private haulers or — if they choose to participate — local government agencies, who would be relieved of the current expense that’s borne by taxpayers, Hart said. The bill requires that the charge would not exceed the cost of running the stewardship program. DEP would also be paid for its oversight from the fee revenue.

Any producer, distributor or retailer who fails to comply would first get a written warning and then be fined $500 to $1,000 for each subsequent offense, according to the bill.

Hart said that in Ocean County where he lives, he can take unwanted latex paint to a municipal hazardous waste collection point where it is picked up by the county at an annual cost of some $200,000.

Under the proposed reform, there would be collection sites within 15 miles of 90% of all New Jersey residents; a site will be established for every 30,000 people. Collection sites would include hardware stores that would be incentivized to participate by attracting can donors who may then become customers, Hart said.

Assemblywoman Yvonne Lopez (D-Middlesex), a sponsor of the bill, said it would incentivize partnerships between manufacturers and municipalities, and mitigate the harm of improper disposal by consumers. “It also improves the chance of products being recycled and repurposed for the creation of new products,” she said in a statement.

Assemblyman James Kennedy (D-Middlesex, Somerset, Union), said the bill would shift responsibility for disposal onto producers and reduce the financial burden on local government agencies.

“Ultimately, the stewardship is a long-term investment that spurs more conscientious decision-making by producers from the point of manufacture all the way through to the point of disposal,” he said.