Oct 31, 2019 09:00AM
By Kyle Hass
All Photos by EarthPaint.org
Provides High-Quality at Low Cost
by Alex Parker
Chris McCarthy just wanted to be helpful. A longtime paint professional who had gained a real estate license, homeowners kept asking him what do with all the leftover paint they had in their homes. “I don’t know if I come from a generation that thinks of recycling first, but I never thought to throw it away,” McCarthy said. Instead, he collected the unwanted paint until he had a basement full of the stuff gathering dust.
So he set out to solve a problem, and in 2013 founded EarthPaint.org, a nonprofit organization with a special-needs workforce that recycles latex paint and sells the new, sustainable product throughout the Chicago area.
The average American home has about three cans of unused paint lying around, with many homeowners unsure what to do with it. While the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency suggests using gravel or kitty litter to dry it out, thus making it acceptable to throw away, McCarthy and other paint recyclers say there’s a better option.
“There is a lot of really old information out there, and that’s part of the problem,” he said, warning of the labor involved in mixing gravel with paint. “Recycling your paint cuts out hours of work, and is good for the climate. From a consumer perspective, it’s good for their wallet, too.”
A good rule of thumb is to avoid throwing paint away, says Mary Allen, recycling and education director for the Solid Waste Agency of Northern Cook County (SWANCC). While Illinois doesn’t have laws specifically banning paint from being thrown in the garbage, many haulers won’t accept it. There are environmental concerns, too.
“It is important to have modern technologies to manage garbage, but people should try to reuse, recycle or safely dispose of something that has potential harm to the environment or can be recovered, even if they throw it away,” she notes. “Just because we can, doesn’t mean that we should.”
For homeowners looking to dispose of oil-based paint, the SWANCC website (swancc.org) lists the four chemical waste disposal locations in Chicago, Gurnee, Naperville and Rockford. Some towns will pick up chemical waste, as well as electronics and other items that can’t be thrown away, from residences. Homeowners struggle to dispose of items like paint because they often don’t know their options, and if they do, it’s often inconvenient, so municipalities can help, she says. “Incorporating the at-home, curbside pickup program in a municipal contract is the most convenient method of collecting special materials from residents,” shares Allen.
A Sustainable Option
Paint recycler Jim Cosby says getting the unwanted paint isn’t an issue. It’s selling the recycled product that has proven most difficult. With consumers so used to picking brand-name paint off the shelves, getting them to opt for recycled paint, even at half the price, is challenging.
“It’s hard to compete [with big brands] on color and sheen,” says Cosby, president of Michigan-based ePaint Recycling LLC (EPaintRecyclingSolutions.com), which has a location in Arlington Heights. “Our wall paint, quality-wise, I really feel like we stack up well with any of their products that cost $25 or $35 a gallon. We’re going to perform equally to any product in that category.”
The paint industry has contracted in recent years, with big names like Benjamin Moore gobbling up independent brands like Chicago’s JC Licht. Paint recyclers are competing directly with the clout of those major brands, making it difficult to expand their footprint, even with the quality and breadth of options the recyclers guarantee.
“As a professional painter, I wouldn’t use a product that makes my job last longer,” says McCarthy. “Our paint’s one-coat coverage comes in more than 40 standards colors. It’s going to save time and money, it’s going to look great and it’s good for the environment.”
Cosby, who also manufactures dozens of colors, explains that skeptical customers usually come around to the idea of using a recycled product. “Don’t be afraid of recycled paint,” he says, urging consumers to test it. “Try it in your garage, paint your fence, paint your basement. Gain your confidence in recycled paint that way. Give us a shot.”
EarthPaint.org recycled paint can be purchased at the Rebuilding Exchange (RebuildingExchange.org) in Chicago, and Habitat for Humanity Restores (Habitat.org/restores) in Chicago, Chicago Heights, Elgin and Joliet, as well as its facility in Wood Dale. ePaint’s product is also available at its facility in Arlington Heights.
Alex Parker is president of Green Collar Communications, a Chicago-based PR and digital marketing firm that specializes in working with green businesses.
Paint the Planet Green
EarthPaint.org uses rainwater captured by rain barrels: “It takes 13 gallons of water to create a new gallon,” McCarthy says. “Why not use what we already have?”
Recycled paint uses less energy: “In a gallon of paint, you’re going to have 15 different ingredients,” Cosby says. “Take clay, talc, silica and titanium dioxide: they get mined from the earth and refined and warehoused and packaged.” That’s before they even get to a paint manufacturer. A new gallon of paint requires the equivalent of 115 pounds of carbon emissions.
EarthPaint.org finds ways to use the entire paint can: “We’re running out of space to bury things like paint and paint cans,” says McCarthy. “We try to reuse every part of the paint can, right down to the plastic lining.”