County keeps waste paint out of the HHW cycle
For years, residents of Montgomery County, Md., disposed of liquid latex paint at the county’s Household Hazardous Waste (HHW) facility and, in the process, threw away millions of tax dollars. That changed last March, when the county’s Division of Solid Waste Services (DSWS) began distributing a hardening agent that allows residents to dispose of paint with their regular trash.
Historically, DSWS has promoted alternatives to latex paint disposal, encouraging residents to donate leftover paint to groups in need or to combine leftover paint and use it on jobs for which the final coat is not important. Nevertheless, residents have typically chosen to dispose of their paint during HHW collection events, perhaps finding it more convenient to drive up and drop off than to locate a group to take the paint.
Despite the fact that latex paint is not hazardous, the county had no choice but to collect it through its HHW program, says Richard Dimont, DSWS’s program manager for hazardous waste and waste reduction. “It was quite a messy proposition for any residential collectors to take liquid latex paint,” he explains. “There was no other real venue for [people] to get rid of the paint.”
So the HHW facility accepted the latex paint and, by last year, was paying close to $3.25 per can to get rid of it. “I liken it to going to the emergency room for a hangnail,” Dimont says. “An emergency room is the most expensive place in the world to go for healthcare because you have so many doctors on call. Same thing with household hazardous waste. You bring me something that’s not hazardous, and I’ve got all these highly trained, highly paid individuals handling it. In fiscal year 2000, we were spending close to a quarter-million dollars, just in latex paint disposal.”
That was before Dimont found Waste Paint Hardener. The product consists of crystals that are stirred into liquid latex paint to promote drying. When the paint solidifies, it can be discarded in the resident’s regular trash.
DSWS ordered a small supply of the crystals from the manufacturer, Bio-Wash, a division of Napier Environmental, based in Delta, B.C., Canada. By June, Dimont was ordering additional supplies for distribution at collection events.
“We order about 25,000 packets per year,” Dimont notes. (A packet contains three-and-a-half ounces of crystals, enough to harden two-thirds of a gallon of liquid latex paint.) “They cost about a dollar per packet to us, and we hand them out to residents.
“The idea is to get them used to using it,” he says. “The product is available on a sporadic basis at some of the area hardware stores, but people don’t immediately think [of using it]. We’re trying to show them that, if they use this product, they will save time — they won’t have to come to Household Hazardous Waste — and they’ll be doing the environmentally correct thing.”
DSWS promotes the paint hardener by distributing literature and samples at HHW events. (The literature, as well as newspaper ads, promote all of the county’s suggested methods for paint waste reduction.) The division also has placed information about the product on its Web site (http://solidwaste.dpwt.com/wastereduction/paint.htm).
Although the county still accepts liquid latex paint during its collection events, Dimont notes a drop in the number of gallons being processed, and he attributes that change to residents’ use of the paint hardener. “It has made a difference,” he says. “We’re seeing a sharp reduction in the cubic yard boxes of paint moving out. This time last year, we collected [and disposed of] 569 cubic yard boxes of paint, 80 percent of which was latex. This year, we’re at 345 cubic yard boxes, and 80 percent of that is latex.”
Already, Dimont is seeing an impact on DSWS’s bottom line. During the first nine months of fiscal year 2002, contractor costs for HHW disposal were $263,000, while costs for the same period in fiscal year 2001 were $383,000.