Community RePaint celebrates 25 years keeping paint from going to waste

We have come a long way in our appreciation of the art of recycling in the last few decades, with our understanding of how materials can be repurposed to keep them out of landfill becoming ever richer. Some materials remain undervalued, however, and paint is one that often goes unconsidered.

Every year, 320 million litres of paint are purchased in the UK. Of that, 50 million ends up going to waste, either thrown away or left to gather dust in garages during the often lengthy breaks in home DIY projects, despite over 50 per cent of it still being usable. Thankfully, some are working to get that paint on walls and keep it out of bins. Step forward, Community RePaint.

The UK paint reuse network, set up and run by environmental consultancy Resource Futures, celebrated 25 years of paint recycling in 2018. From its roots as a small pilot project in Leeds in 1993, the network of individual paint reuse schemes has grown considerably and now encompasses 65 active schemes across the UK. Across the network, 433,250 litres of reusable paint were collected in 2018, of which 317,600 litres were redistributed to individuals and groups and 67,000 litres were sent for remanufacturing.

Community RePaint celebrates 25 years keeping paint from going to waste

The original project was known as Waste Wagon and was set up by the Special Collections Research Group on Leeds City Council to address issues with hazardous household waste. The project found that people tend to store large amounts of leftover paint in sheds, garages and cupboards. This unused paint was collected and given to local charities and groups, where the demand for affordable paint for low income families and individuals became evident, leading to the establishment of the Community RePaint network.

Since its inception 25 years ago, the project, sponsored solely by paint manufacturer Dulux since 2008, has diverted more than 5.5 million litres of paint from the waste stream across the UK and helped countless local groups and charities spruce up their shared spaces, enabling people on low incomes to redecorate their homes at low cost.

“We’ve achieved a lot in 25 years, but there is still a long way to go,” said Martin Pearse, Community RePaint Network Project Manager. “Our data tells us 40 litres of paint are wasted from UK homes every minute, when it could be reused and repurposed to support affordable community schemes and projects nationwide. That means we need schemes nation-wide and we can offer a win-win for local authorities who want to save money and prevent paint going to waste at the same time.”

Beyond redistributing usable leftover paint, Community RePaint also remanufactures paint at the network’s two remanufacturing centres in Cambridgeshire and the Wirral, set up in 2015 and 2016 respectively. Leftover paint is reprocessed and turned into ReColour, the network’s remanufactured paint brand, which is available in 20 colours and a variety of paint styles.

Paul Murgett, sustainability marketing manager at Akzo Nobel, the Dutch multinational that owns the Dulux brand, said: “Dulux have been delighted to support the Community RePaint network since its inception and are proud to have been the sole sponsor of the network since 2008. In that time, Community RePaint, with our support, has launched ReColour, a remanufactured paint brand, which is produced at two of the largest Community RePaint schemes for community benefit. It is a reflection of our commitment to resource efficiency and the communities in which we operate.”

Community RePaint Highlands

Redistributing paint doesn’t just keep a reusable material from going to waste, but provides volunteering, training and employment opportunities in the processing of paint and painting techniques. So far, Community RePaint has created over 180 positions, allowing people the opportunity to gain skills and help their local community.

Community RePaint celebrates 25 years keeping paint from going to waste
Community RePaint schemes around the UK.
One such scheme that places an emphasis on the opportunities for training and skills is Community RePaint Highlands in Inverness. Managed by Scott Clelland since 2012, RePaint Highlands collected 8,750 litres of paint in 2018 and sold and redistributed 6,161 litres of that to 97 community groups and 241 families and individuals.

The benefit to the community of access to low-cost paint – available for £1-2 a litre – is obvious to Clelland: “If a charity contacts me I’ll try my best to get stuff for them. There are various different ones in the area that have benefitted. Obviously before they weren’t able to do up a property they’ve got, and now they’ve got a nice place they can encourage people to come into.

“If you’re given a property that is dark, dingey and not very inhabitable and you’re able to give it a lick of paint and spruce it up and make it livable it makes a big difference to someone’s health and their sense of pride.”

Though part of the RePaint community, RePaint Highlands is run by New Start Highlands, which works with people who are unemployed to help them get back on their feet. As Clelland says: “It’s working with people who are unemployed, trying to get them back job-ready, trying to get them out of the house and build up their confidence a bit before getting back into the workplace.”

Clelland gets about three or four people from Inverness and the surrounding area working in the shop, for anything from one day a week to the whole week, where he teaches them basic painting techniques and leads them in processing recovered paint for sale in the organisation’s shop. Trainees are both long-term and short-term, with time spent at the shop only ever meant to be temporary. Whether its learning new skills or just regaining confidence, Clelland says the time spent helping at the organisation pays dividends.

“It’s good to be able to show a future employer a timesheet so they can say they’ve done ‘x’ amount of work for this charity rather than sitting at home waiting for a job to come up,” says Clelland. “They’ve gone out and helped in the community, which is great and is much appreciated.”

Though Community RePaint Highlands operates as an individual organisation, Clelland is effusive in his praise for the RePaint network and the support from Resource Futures within that.

“The guys are fantastic, they’re a really big help. They’re always on the end of the phone if you want to phone them up about something. If someone’s got a potential paint donation that’s quite large they’ll go through them or find them through internet searches and bring it to us. We work in tandem but they’ve been a massive help.”

Of particular use is the annual network day when the various schemes get together to share ideas and discuss how improvements can be made. “I’ve been fortunate enough to go down to some of them and it’s been great”, Clelland states. “You always get an idea from one of the other schemes you haven’t thought of or you might give them an idea, just through chatting. Plus, I visited one of the other schemes last year, which was really useful because you can see how different areas work and what other schemes do well.”

Projects like Community RePaint Highlands demonstrate the value brought to communities by the Community RePaint network, not just in terms of reducing waste, but in providing a service that leads to community improvement in many different areas.

Looking ahead to the next 25 years, Community RePaint has no intention of slowing down and certainly has its eyes fixed on more ambitious collection targets, as it aims to redistribute over 1.5 million litres of paint in 2020 and expand its coverage in London, Birmingham and Scotland. After a quarter of a century working to keep paint out of the waste stream, a colourful future lies ahead for Community RePaint.