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Paint recycling in the UK: room for improvement?

8th May 2017

Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) and Product Stewardship regulations have been applied to a variety of different waste areas under a large range of different states. One waste product for which there are schemes globally, although not in the UK, is paint. EPR schemes for paint are in place in most states across Canada, providing free-to-use recycling programmes funded by industry stewards. Similarly, in the USA and Australia, product stewardship systems are in place. These systems are funded through charges to consumers, whilst all persons involved with the lifespan of the product contribute towards its recycling.

In contrast, the UK has no paint EPR or stewardship regulations in place, and recycling facilities are limited to small enterprises or a minority of local authorities. The result of this is that only 2% of waste paint is recycled, the remainder ending up poured down the drain, sent to landfill as solid waste, or left sitting in the garage most likely awaiting disposal.

Could all this be recycled? Perhaps not the in UK

This issue has been discussed by parliament in a debate titled “A Circular Economy for Leftover Paint”. In this, attention was drawn to the extent of paint waste, and consumers were criticised for overbuying paint, thus contributing to its wastage. That no producer action was proposed suggests that waste paint is perhaps not considered enough of a problem to justify regulation on producers.

Research carried out by Dulux estimates that 55 million litres of paint are wasted each year and a 5 litre can of paint has been estimated to have a carbon footprint of 13.58kgCO2 equivalent. This equates to over 31,500 passenger vehicles being driven for one year! Perhaps more notably, it also equates to the carbon cost of approximately half of the 2.5 billion coffee cups wasted each year in the UK (see footnote). This suggests that paint wastage in the UK is indeed a significant problem, yet one which receives little political, media or public attention.  This contrasts with the treatment of other waste streams such as coffee cups – the environmental consequences of which are the subject of a recently launched government enquiry.

Although it’s not clear what the causes of the waste paint problem are, this issue still exists with little government intervention in place to tackle it. This is perhaps one area of waste in which the UK is falling behind and significant steps can be taken.