Lawmakers propose a fresh coat for recycled paint bill

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Apr. 29—CONCORD — Granite Staters could return unused paint to be reused or recycled under a bipartisan bill passed by the House, over objections that it would raise prices.

For many years, legislative efforts to come up with a better way to dispose of unused paint have failed.

In 2024, a group of lawmakers is trying again with a plan they say could reduce municipal expenses while letting retailers decide whether to accept returned paint.

During a recent hearing on a House-passed bill (HB 1504), state Sen. David Watters, D-Dover, said the bill provides "a really smart and effective way" to deal with unused paint.

The bill creates a mechanism for setting up collection points for leftover latex and oil paints, and sets fees to be imposed on manufacturers to maintain the program.

Opponents argue that the measure still creates a "paint tax," which will raise the price of a popular consumer product in an inflationary economy.

"Considering the amount of scorn and ridicule the paint tax got the last time it came before the Legislature, one might think that it would be good politics to abandon the idea," said Greg Moore, state director of the fiscally conservative interest group Americans for Prosperity.

Moore said it was "disappointing" that the bill is headed to the Senate after clearing the House.

"We don't need any more taxes, let alone at a time when people are already struggling with the impact of inflation. We need policies that reduce the burdens of the cost of living, not increase them."

New Hampshire and Massachusetts are the only two New England states without a used-paint program.

Oregon was the first to adopt one in 2009, and 11 states and the District of Columbia now have Paint Stewardship Initiatives.

The effort in other states is managed by PaintCare, a nonprofit owned by the American Coatings Association that includes the nation's paint manufacturers.

Prospective vendors would have to present a plan to state officials by Jan. 1.

In states that accept unused paint, the best leftovers are resold to consumers, and much of the rest is recycled.

Some latex paint is used for concrete mixes, landscaping materials or in landfill covers.

Oil-based paints and stains can be reprocessed and used as fuel.

Some paint containers are returned to landfills in secure containers if they can't be recycled, officials said.

"This keeps that closed circle environment going and keeps it out of our landfills," said Rep. Meg Murray, D-Amherst, who rewrote the bill sponsored by Reps. Lucius Parshall, D-Marlborough, and Sherry Dutzy, D-Nashua.

Bill proposes starting fees

Under this bill, the paint manufacturer pays the fee and presumably builds it into the consumer's cost.

The legislation sets starting fee rates of no more than $3.50 for containers larger than one gallon and no less than 75 cents for cans of a pint or less.

To keep the program from operating at a loss, a legislative rules committee could consider changes in the fee schedule.

Maine, Rhode Island and Connecticut have fee structures that start at 35 cents and go up to $1.60.

On May 1, Vermont's fees will rise to a range of 65 cents to $2.45.

Rep. Peter Bixby, D-Dover, said a key change to the bill permits existing recycling centers such as transfer stations to accept returns of unused paint.

"This makes the model work for New Hampshire," Bixby said.

Jeremy Jones, an executive with the coatings association who managed programs for Minnesota, Oregon, California and the state of Washington, suggested the Legislature spend the summer fine-tuning New Hampshire's proposed model.

Jones said nearly all other states have the vendor, rather than state government, set the fee.

Watters said New Hampshire, unlike most states, is loath to give any entity other than government the right to set fees.

Todd Piskovitz, hazardous waste bureau administrator for DES, said the agency would need to hire a full-time staffer to supervise the effort, an up-front cost not covered in the bill.

Once the recycling effort is in place, the legislation allows the state to bill the vendor on a quarterly basis to cover expenses.

The agency also has concerns that the timeline is too ambitious, Piskovitz said.