HALF-EMPTY cans of old paint account for more than 50 percent of the hazardous waste in American homes.
In New England alone, an estimated 14 million gallons of the toxic material sits in basements and garages. Much of it finds its way into landfills or gets dumped.
One company trying to profit from the mess is The Green Paint Company, a year-old start-up in Sutton, Mass., whose plan is to collect used paint, recycle it into new paint, and sell it back to consumers and contractors.
It is a market-based solution to the problem of hazardous waste disposal, says Steve Greenberg, the company's vice president. But "I can't sell recycled paint unless I get the [old] paint out of your basement."
Only a handful of companies and cities around the country have tried paint recycling, says Barry Connell, a research associate with Dana Ducksbury & Associates, an environmental consulting firm in Andover, Mass. Most of the companies have simply blended the paint into an ugly gray. But by carefully sorting its paint, Green Paint is able to offer more than 12 colors.
"Green Paint is unique in that they are not just looking for giveaways to housing authorities and departments of public works," Mr. Connell says. "They're actually trying to market their paints through commercial painters and through some hardware stores directly to the consumer."
Green Paint's line of 24 products are made from between 15 and 90 percent recycled paint. The paint is collected on special "hazardous waste cleanup" days held by cities and towns. Municipalities contract with Green Paint to take the paint away.
Green Paint is currently negotiating with a company to collect used paint on a nationwide basis, Greenberg says.
Towns save money by sending paint to Green Paint's plant, which costs less than sending it to a hazardous waste disposal site. Last May, for example, the town of Attleboro, Mass., paid Green Paint $3,500 to collect 1,400 gallons of used paint. The town saved $6,000.
Green Paint's proprietary process involves a careful sorting, testing for contaminants, and reformulating the resulting paint so that it once again meets industry standards, says company president Scott Herbert, who has 20 years experience in the paint business.
Recycled paint ends up costing consumers between one-third and 40 percent less than virgin paint, Greenberg says. The paint is being sold by dealers in five states.
Funding for the company came from two Small Business Administration loans totaling $250,000. "We project that by the end of the year we will sell in the vicinity of $350,000, or 50,000 gallons," Greenberg says. He says he expects sales to rise to $5 million within two years.