Spring cleaning for the earth

PaintCare, Blue Star Recyclers offer solutions for hazardous waste

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It is common knowledge that improper disposal of hazardous waste can have negative impacts on the environment. Often, the chemicals and materials that make up hazardous waste cannot be broken down, thus, can cause harmful contamination in water, soil and air.

Many people know that some common household items, such as paint and electronics, shouldn’t go to the landfill. But on the other hand, what do you do with them? Two nonprofits — PaintCare and Blue Star Recyclers — may have the answer.

PaintCare

“Pandecorating” has become a trend this past year as people have been spending more time at home because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

For some, it was adding an accent wall for a small change in a common area or family room, and for others, it was a complete remodel of a home office or work-from-home space.

Unlike some home improvement projects, painting is one that people often feel they can take on themselves, said Kevin Lynch, Colorado program manager for PaintCare.

“People feel comfortable painting their wall,” Lynch said, “versus needing to hire someone like they would for plumbing or electrical work.”

Therefore, most people have leftover paint, creating a need for an easy disposal option, Lynch added. PaintCare is a national nonprofit that makes it easy to recycle leftover paint, he said.

There are more than 175 drop-off locations across the state — many of those are in the Denver-metro area — that include paint retailers and household hazardous waste facilities.

The service is free of charge. The program is funded by a small fee added on to every paint sale in Colorado — $0.75 per gallon or $1.60 for five gallons.

After leftover paint is dropped off, the next best use for it is determined. “Most of the oil-based paint is … taken to a cement plant where it is blended into a fuel and burned to recover the energy value,” states PaintCare’s website. Most latex paint goes to one of two local small businesses — one is in Pueblo, and the other is GreenSheen Paint located in Denver’s Athmar Park neighborhood — for reprocessing into new, recycled-content paint. The recycled-content paint, which is labeled as so, can be purchased at some Habitat for Humanity ReStore locations and at GreenSheen Paint.

“This is giving a new life to the paint,” Lynch said, adding that “more people are going green and learning more about recycled-content products, and wanting to use their dollars on that.”

Lynch had a few more tips for those who are looking to be more environmentally friendly with their painting.

Buy right and store right: Purchase the correct amount for your needs. This can be done by taking measurements, but also by talking with retailers.

“Store staff tend to love talking with homeowners about their projects,” Lynch said.

Paint can last decades if stored properly. Store leftover paint in its original container, re-seal it tightly and keep it in a dry, cool and dark place.

Use it up or give it away: Paint leftover from a larger project can be saved for future touchups, and sometimes, another project. Ask among friends, relatives, artists or community groups to see if any of them would have a need for any leftover paint. If not, it can always be recycled, Morris said.

Paint Care’s Colorado program launched in July 2015, and since then, about four million gallons of paint, stain and varnish have been managed.

To learn more about PaintCare, visit https://www.paintcare.org. Select CO to find drop off locations and accepted products.

Blue Star Recyclers

According to Sam Morris, CEO of Blue Star Recyclers, being able to go to work and having a purpose is important to everyone.

Therefore, Blue Star Recyclers, which is a nonprofit social enterprise, has a social, economic and environmental impact.

As for the social and economic impacts, Blue Star Recyclers creates jobs for, and employs, adults with autism and other disabilities who may not otherwise be able to obtain gainful employment. What they do is the environmental impact, which is recycling electronic waste, also known as e-waste.

Blue Star Recyclers got its start in Colorado Springs about 13 years ago. In 2015, the Denver location at 953 Decatur St. in the Sun Valley neighborhood opened. The organization expanded to Boulder in 2016, and Basalt in 2019. There is also a Chicago location which opened in 2019.

All electronics have some sort of hazardous material in it, but about 80% of electronic waste is not recycled, Morris said.

“If it goes to the landfill, a lot of the materials in e-waste seeps into the earth and can have a significant impact,” Morris said. “Because none of it goes away.”

Blue Star Recyclers accepts nearly “anything that plugs into a wall,” Morris said. This includes all computers and laptops, printers, televisions, stereos, video game players, cell phones, microwaves, hair dryers and vacuum cleaners, for some examples. The exception is large appliances such as refrigerators or others that contain PCB-containing ballasts, Freon or liquid mercury.

But “regardless of what you have, give us a call,” Morris said, adding that if it’s an item that Blue Star Recyclers doesn’t accept, the organization can help with recommending a place that will accept it.

Of all the electronics that are brought to Blue Star Recycling, as little as possible goes to the landfill, Morris said. This means 100% of the hazardous waste is recycled, and some materials are re-used, he added. For example, the glass on some televisions can be reused to make ceramic tiles, Morris said.

Computers are always free because of the value in the circuit boards, Morris said. The rest of the electronics have a small fee, which is about $0.59 per pound. The recycling fees help Blue Star Recyclers “achieve over 90% self-sustainability and pay our workers real wages,” states the website.

The workers truly enjoy coming to work each day, Morris said, and they have the “aptitude and attitude for careful, detailed, repetitive work.”

“The impact is two-fold. They go from being quiet and timid to hitting their stride,” Morris said. “And become part of the community working alongside their peers.”

To learn more about Blue Star Recyclers and the e-waste it accepts, visit http://bluestarrecyclers.org.

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