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What is a circular economy?

A circular economy aims to keep products, components and materials in use for as long as possible, extracting the maximum value from them while in use and recovering and regenerating products, components and materials at the end of their service life.

The Ellen Macarthur Foundation (established in 2010 to accelerate the transition to a circular economy) explains the concept of a circular economy in more depth as follows:

A circular economy is restorative and regenerative by design, and aims to keep products, components, and materials at their highest utility and value at all times. The concept distinguishes between technical and biological cycles.

As envisioned by the originators, a circular economy is a continuous positive development cycle that preserves and enhances natural capital, optimises resource yields, and minimises system risks by managing finite stocks and renewable flows. It works effectively at every scale.

Further background information on the circular economy is available:

Leftover paint

What are the concerns?

According to the British Coatings Federation (the UK trade association for decorative, industrial and powder coatings, printing inks and wallcovering manufacturers) (BCF):

  • 55 million litres of leftover decorative paint is generated in the UK each year;
  • Only 2% of leftover paint is reused or remanufactured;
  • Only one in three Household Waste Recycling Centres accepts paint for re-use or remanufacture; and
  • The estimated cost to local government of disposing of waste paint each year is £20.6 million.

What to do with leftover paint

If unwanted paint is still usable, it can be donated to a local project or to family and friends. Community re-paint is a nationwide network of paint donation schemes.

The disposal of liquid waste (including liquid paint) to landfill is banned in the UK pursuant to EU requirements. In England, this is regulated by the Environment Agency through the environmental permits it issues to landfill operators. This means that local councils are unable to accept liquid paint as part of their waste collection / disposal duties.

Appropriate disposal options for leftover paint often depend on what local services are available and may include:

  • using a licensed hazardous waste collection and disposal service (for solvent based paint, paint thinner and white spirit);
  • contacting the local authority’s waste department to organise collection and disposal (which may be free or incur a fee) or checking whether the local household waste recycling centre accepts paint;
  • drying out paint residue and disposing in a residual bin and recycling the tin (for water-based paint only).
  • There are also some dedicated paint remanufacturing companies in the UK, who reprocess waste paint.

WRAP’s Recycle Now campaign provides further information on how to dispose of leftover paint.

Innovations and proposals

Government action

A recent PQ response summarises the steps the Government is taking to work with industry on making better use of leftover paint:

The Government has been engaging constructively with the British Coatings Federation on making better use of leftover paint, including identifying potential regulatory barriers to its recycling and remanufacture and how these might be overcome.

The Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) encourages consumers to recycle and re-use household paint by providing information through the Recycle Now website. This includes a postcode locator which helps pinpoint local Household Waste Recycling Centres (HWRCs) that accept leftover paint. The Government’s Innovation in Waste Prevention Fund has also supported a pilot paint re-use project in Cheshire involving local charities, working with HWRCs and housing associations to increase paint donation and minimise disposal. WRAP will publish a summary of the project, lessons learned and a video case study later in the year.

In terms of public procurement, it is for each Government department to consider sustainability and put this into practice in its own procurement activity. Government Buying Standards do not currently include remanufactured paint. WRAP has recently published a guide on ‘How to Include Re-use in Local Authority HWRC Procurement’.

PaintCare proposals

PaintCare is led by the British Coatings Federation and brings together local and national government, the waste industry, paint companies, retailers and other stakeholders. It aims to create a national scheme for leftover decorative paint in the UK, where it can be reused or remanufactured, thereby creating a ‘circular economy’ model.

For more information on the PaintCare proposals, please refer to the BCF/PaintCare briefing on a circular economy for leftover paint, which sets out its recommendations to Government and what it sees as the benefits of a national scheme.


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