Paint recycling scheme celebrates fifth year with record high collection rates

Paint recycling scheme celebrates fifth year with record high collection rates

By Rachael Ridley  June 1st, 2021

In a section of the Monash Waste Transfer and Recycling Station in Melbourne’s suburban outer east sit two large black collection bins. They’re filled with paint tins – some still dripping with just-used liquid, others much older, rediscovered perhaps during a burst of spring cleaning.


Admittedly, there are far prettier examples of everyday people participating in the ‘circular economy’. But the Australians dropping off their unwanted paint here and at other Paintback locations nationwide are doing just that – they are playing a crucial role in a scheme that diverts waste from landfill by turning it into resources and protects our natural environment from toxic chemicals.

Five years of collective action reaps rewards

Paintback, which has just celebrated its fifth anniversary, is an independent, not-for-profit organisation launched by the Australian paint industry to divert unwanted paint and packaging from landfills and waterways. 

In 2019/2020 alone Australians returned 8.1 million kilograms of unwanted paint and packaging – smashing the previous year’s tally of 6.3 million kilograms. And next month, Australians are on track to have safely dispose of more than 28 million kilograms of paint and packaging since the scheme started.

“Every drop in every bucket has counted,” said Paintback CEO Karen Gomez.

“It’s been a nationwide collective effort – from Australians, to the paint industry, to governments and local councils. It shows how the power of collective action can really make a difference.”

Paintback transports paint to be treated and repurposed for industrial processes, including as an alternative to fossil fuel or, for latex paint, by extracting the water so it can be reused. Starting with just 12 sites in 2016, Paintback, which is funded by a 15c per litre levy on paint products, now has 160 permanent collection sites nationwide.

But while Paintback celebrates their birthday on a high, they certainly haven’t peaked. The organisation plans to eventually have 90 per cent of unwanted paint diverted into Australia’s budding circular economy – where products are reused or repurposed for other manufacturing or industry processes to keep them in use instead of being discarded permanently. 

Growing a circular economy for paint

In order to achieve this lofty goal, Paintback has begun an ambitious five-pronged research and development program to help boost the circular economy for paint and packaging in Australia.

“There is already a small circular economy for paint, but if we can return even more unwanted paint back into the manufacturing and industrial processes, we are reducing the need for virgin material and demand for natural resources,” said Ms Gomez.

The research program involves separate partnerships with many participants including the Australian Road Research Board and Pact Group’s Astron Sustainability. It includes investigating:

  • Turning paint pails into shredded plastic to produce new paint pails.

  • Whether paint is a candidate to help make geopolymer concrete – a type of concrete that is made of industrial waste and processed at room temperature. This would significantly reduce the greenhouse gas emissions associated with the production of other cements, which is processed at temperatures over 1400C.

  • How paint ingredients might replace some of the chemicals currently used in road construction products.

  • The use of paint ingredients in concrete.

  • Proof-of-concept research to combine plastic from recovered pails with other waste streams such as glass, carbon and natural fibres to produce high-performance composites for the construction industry.

Why is it important to safely dispose of your unwanted paint?

Paintback research shows that while one in three Australians have unused paint stored away, more than half (54 per cent) of them didn’t know there were organisations to help them dispose of unwanted paint. This is an issue since it has been estimated that up to 5 per cent of paint purchased each year ends up surplus to requirements. That’s a lot of unused paint going to waste, or worse, entering the environment.

Paint contains chemicals that can leach into the environment or waterways when dumped in landfills or illegally. Handing over leftover or unwanted paint to Paintback ensures the packaging is recycled and the paint is dealt with responsibly and safely. 

The best way to minimise your impact on the environment is to accurately estimate the amount of paint needed for your project. But if there is unwanted paint left over, it is free to drop off at Paintback collection points located around the country. 

“The social good of a circular economy for paint is only accomplished if paint and packaging are taken to Paintback drop-off locations. And it is a credit to Australians that we are in a position where we can continue to expand,” said Ms Gomez.

“We want to inspire Australians to be their best eco-selves and help them make paint a showcase for the circular economy.”


Positive Actions

Rachael Ridley

Rachael joined Planet Ark in early 2019 after eight years working in media and publishing as a producer, editor and writer. Rachael loves using her skills in content creation and communication to instigate positive environmental behaviour change. Outside of work, Rachael enjoys spending time in nature, listening to music and patting dogs.

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