Recycling paint through regular household hazardous waste drop-off programs is expensive, but residents wanting to discard paint have a lower cost option. Dropping off at a paint store participating in the PaintCare program is so efficient, the cost has declined during this time of high inflation.

To the consumer, it may seem both programs are free; however, both really do have a cost. Public agencies fund most general household hazardous waste collection by charging a fee to garbage collection companies, which then pass on the expense in the form of rates charged to customers. The fee is necessary because contractors operating the collection events usually charge over $70 per vehicle load brought to them, regardless of the contents.

Paint collection stores’ recycling programs are also funded by a fee, but it is not noticed at the time of recycling because it is charged as part of paint purchases. All paint stores in California charge 30 cents for paint in containers of a half-pint to one gallon; 65 cents for one-to-two gallons; and $1.50 for paint in containers between two and five gallons. These fees go to a non-profit organization created and administered by paint industry representatives to meet a state mandate. The organization, called PaintCare, pays for collection, transportation, and processing old paint into new paint, concrete, fuel or other products. PaintCare also promotes the program statewide.

All paint retailers must add the fee to paint purchases, but participation as a drop-off site is voluntary. Participating paint stores can be found on the PaintCare website, www.paintcare.org. The landing page on the website has a “site locator” device. Entering a city or zip code in the middle of Ventura County yields a list of 25 options from Agoura Hills to Carpinteria, including one site in the Ojai Valley and one site in the Santa Clara River Valley.

I went to Frontier Paints, in the Mira Monte area of the Ojai Valley, last week, and my example shows one of the reasons why paint stores choose to participate in the PaintCare program. I recycled only a small amount of paint leftover in a five-gallon container, but then I bought an expensive new quart-sized paint mixed on site at the store. Sam Morales, Frontier Paint’s sales clerk, said one or two recyclers come in per day, and most are either regular customers or become customers.

There is also another reason why the public/private program run by PaintCare is less expensive than the household hazardous waste events run by public agencies. The latter programs are expensive because staff administering these events must be prepared for a wide range of materials. Handling large amounts of flammable materials, such as paint, at the same time as toxic material, such as pesticides, requires great precautions. Explosive material, such as ammunition and picric acid, is generally banned from these events but sometimes arrives anyway, also requiring expensive preparation.

A hybrid of these two approaches to collecting paint is also available to recyclers. Some drop-off centers offer regular weekly hours for limited types of materials. These sites are called ABOPs, with the acronym representing the items accepted: antifreeze, batteries, oil and paint. The centers generally also accept fluorescent light bulbs and tubes. Call your local city recycling coordinator or garbage collection company to find if such a site serves your community. These sites are also funded through contracts with public agencies but are usually operated by private companies.

PaintCare drop-off sites accept both latex paint and oil-based house paint, as well as primer, stains, sealers, varnish and shellac. However, these stores do not accept aerosols (spray cans), auto and marine paints, part paints, industrial paint, tints and resins, thinners and solvents, caulk and spackle, wood treatments/preservatives, deck cleaners, nor tar/asphalt related products. These items must be dropped off at a general household hazardous waste drop-off site or event.

Also, for drop-off at PaintCare sites, paint must be in a non-leaking container with a secure lid. It must be in the original container with a manufacturer’s label. Containers may be no larger than five gallons.

Generally, thrift stores do not accept paint. However, Habitat for Humanity’s ReStores in Oxnard and Simi Valley, which sell surplus and gently used home improvement items, accept unopened cans of paint.

David Goldstein, an Environmental Resource Analyst with the Ventura County Public Works Agency, may be reached at 805-658-4312 or [email protected].