Audit, Compliance and Risk Blog

Got Paint? Complying With Hazardous Waste Regulations & Requirements

Posted by Jon Elliott on Fri, Nov 02, 2012

Waste Management RegulationsDo you know what happened to any paints, coatings and surface preparation materials left over after the last project at your facility?

Crucially, when you answered that question, did you think about whether the leftovers and wastes were managed in compliance with applicable government requirements?  They should have been, since federal, state, and even local requirements govern their management.

Which Requirements Apply?

Requirements apply to a broader range of paints, coatings and surface preparation materials.  Since this is a brief discussion, I’ll call these “paints” and “residuals,” even though requirements are further complicated by whether a given batch of material is on-spec or off-spec, pure or mixed, clean or contaminated, in its original container or a waste drum, or attached to a piece of construction debris.  Even leaving aside these critical details, requirements depend on what’s in the paint:

Lead paint was banned for residential use way back in 1978, but it is still applied to bridges, railways, ships, lighthouses and other steel structures.  Federal and state hazardous waste regulations apply if the paint exceeds regulatory limits.

Oil-based paints are also subject to restrictions.  They may be judged to be hazardous wastes if they qualify as “ignitable” or “toxic”. They may also be restricted by air quality laws if the oils, thinners or emulsifiers qualify as “volatile organic compounds (VOCs)”, which contribute to ground-level ozone and smog.

Latex paints are less hazardous than oil-based ones but are still subject to restrictions against discharge to waterways and sewers, and may also therefore qualify as hazardous.

How to Pick Paints?

The safest way to manage paints is to start off in the right way: by reviewing material safety data sheets (MSDSs), product specifications and labels.  These will tell you what is in the paints and what the regulators expect you to do with any residuals.  This will help ensure that you don’t buy the high-VOC coatings that complicate compliance with air quality rules, and will also set you up to manage residuals properly.

If you hire contractors to perform construction—and paint-related projects—you can write project specifications that are meaningful and targeted stipulations, not just a provision that “the project will be conducted in compliance with all applicable legal requirements.”

How to Manage Residuals?

It’s certainly possible to parse the MSDSs and the labels on all your paints, and to manage each drum and can according to its unique requirements.  But many organizations trade off the costs of detailed analysis against the cost of “over-complying” and decide to aggregate chemically similar materials by the hazardous waste categories that may apply, and manage residuals as hazardous wastes.  Most states and many localities help small quantity generators (SQGs) follow this approach, by accepting paint residuals at SQG and household hazardous waste drop-offs, and/or by establishing voluntary paint recycling programs.  If your facility is in one of these places, and meets programmatic standards, you may be able to avoid many of the costs of compliance.  Instead, the agencies bear most of these costs – in 2009, paints represented almost one-third of all materials dropped at HHW/SQG drop-offs in California.

A growing handful of states are establishing “paint product stewardship” laws, requiring manufacturers of architectural paints to ensure effective paint recycling programs.  Oregon was first, with legislation in 2009 ordering a program that began in July 2010.  California has become the second, with 2011 legislation beginning its implementation in late 2012.  As I write this, Connecticut and Rhode Island have passed laws and are preparing for implementation in 2013 and 2014 respectively.  Nationwide advocacy for these laws is provided by the nonprofit organization PaintCare, which was created by the national trade organization American Coatings Association (ACA).  State-level administration of the Oregon and California laws are both structured around oversight of Paint Stewardship Plans implemented by PaintCare.  Both plans provide the following elements:

  • Subject materials: “architectural paint”, which is defined to include interior and exterior architectural coatings sold in containers of five gallons or less.

  • Assessments: charges are added to paints sold, to finance take-back and other recycling activities.

  • Participating manufacturers and brands.

  • Statewide Collection Network: permanent collection sites operated by retailers, local government and other service providers; and collection events.

  • Transportation: of filled collection bins from collection sites to consolidation points or processors, using qualified haulers.

  • Processing: management of the collected post consumer paint for end-of-product-life management, including reuse, recycling, energy recovery and disposal.

  • Outreach and education: public awareness and education programs.

  • Administration: PaintCare administers each program as the stewardship organization, and paint producers report sales and remit required assessments.

Implementation Checklist:

 To help you organize your activities, consider the following checklist:

  • Does my organization buy and use paints, coatings and surface preparation materials? 

- If so, does the organization review MSDSs and product information to determine which environmental, health and safety (EH&S) requirements apply to use of the materials, and to management of residuals?

- If so, does the organization have purchasing policies requiring, or encouraging, consideration of EH&S hazards and compliance responsibilities when making purchasing decisions?  

  • Does the organization conduct construction or renovation projects, at its own facilities and/or as a service provider to third parties? 

- If so, does the organization review MSDSs and product information to determine which environmental and health and safety (EH&S) requirements apply to use of the materials, and to management of residuals?

- If so, does the organization have purchasing policies requiring, or encouraging, consideration of EH&S hazards and compliance responsibilities when making purchasing decisions?  

  • Does the organization have programs in place to comply with applicable EH&S requirements? 

-          worker safety

-          water quality

-          air quality

-          hazardous waste management

-          non-hazardous waste management (including any product stewardship programs)

-          product safety and consumer information and safety 

Where do I go for more information?

  • For national information about existing state laws and ongoing nationwide advocacy:

- PaintCare

- Product Stewardship Institute

About the Author

Jon F. ElliottJon Elliott is President of Touchstone Environmental and has been a major contributor to STP’s product range for over 25 years. He was involved in developing 16 existing products, including The Complete Guide to Environmental Law, Federal Toxics Program Commentary and Greenhouse Gas Auditing of Supply Chains.

Mr. Elliott has a diverse educational background. In addition to his Juris Doctor (University of California, Boalt Hall School of Law, 1981), he holds a Master of Public Policy (Goldman School of Public Policy [GSPP], UC Berkeley, 1980), and a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering (Princeton University, 1977).

Mr. Elliott is active in professional and community organizations. In addition, he is a past chairman of the Board of Directors of the GSPP Alumni Association, and past member of the Executive Committee of the State Bar of California's Environmental Law Section (including past chair of its Legislative Committee).

You may contact Mr. Elliott directly at:

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