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Austin steps up distribution of reblended paint

By ASHER PRICE/None
Dec. 26, 2010 at 6:26 a.m.


AUSTIN, Texas (AP) - Dawn Whipple recently had to throw out her City of Austin work clothes because they had gotten too stiff.

They were caked with so much paint that they were hard to put on, said Whipple, who manages the city's Household Hazardous Waste Facility in Southeast Austin.

Mixing a spectrum of unwanted paints, a team led by Whipple is now making the artfully named Balcones Canyonlands, inevitably a kind of dark beige, as part of its free-to-the-public Austin ReBlend line.

The off-brown uses "every color ever," says Whipple: purples, reds, greens, "you name it."

For years, the facility has been a spot where Austinites can safely get rid of old cans of paints, cleaning material and gasoline gathering dust and rust in sheds and closets. But recently it has stepped up the reblending and free distribution of paint. Thus the stiff clothes.

Whipple's crew also blends Texas Limestone, an off-white. They are experimenting with making a blue (Barton Springs, perhaps?) and a yellow (Golden-cheeked bronze?).

For years, old paint accepted at the facility had been sent to a contractor in Pflugerville to reblend and redistribute to nonprofit groups. But the contractor was limited in the amount he could blend.

To divert more paint from landfills, make it available to homeowners and cut down on the carbon footprint of shipping the paint back and forth to Pflugerville, last summer Austin began reblending the paint in-house.

In November, the facility gave away 590 gallons of the paint, most of it shades of Balcones Canyonlands. Every 50-odd-gallon batch is slightly different because of the variety of paint colors and quantities dumped into a drum before an industrial mixer whirls it together.

Overall, the facility received a shade over 1 million pounds of waste last year, 70 percent of it paint. About half of the paint is latex-based, and about 17 percent of the latex paint is reusable.

Cans of oil paint are put in a box with other household hazardous materials for incineration.

Workers rapidly sift through latex paint: First they snap off the lid; then they peer inside to see if it's liquid or clumpy to decide whether it's salvageable; the clumpy stuff gets poured into a crate, where it will solidify and end up in the landfill. The liquid stuff ends up in a mixing drum. The can gets recycled.

Whipple, whose clothes can resemble a Jackson Pollock canvas, can plow through 20 cans in a minute: pour the paint, clean the can out and toss it in a recycling bin. The paint is free to the public, but only for small, individual projects.

"If you've already come in a few times for paint and then say, 'I'm painting my mom's neighbor's house,' we're apt not to give it to you,'" she said. "You'll get on a do-not-paint list."

It was hard to tell whether she was joking about the list.

The paint giveaways have avid fans.

"It's the best paint I ever bought," said Debra Habib, who has picked up paint for her house and was stopping by the facility to pick up some surplus cleaning materials. "This has saved me so much money."

Randal Kretzler says members of his Northwest Austin church for years have taken gallons of the paint to poor neighborhoods in the Mexico border town of Acuna, just across the border from Del Rio.

"They have had a real need for paint in Acuna, because it can be expensive and of poor quality," he said. "If they don't paint (for the homes) every five years or so, they'll go downhill really quickly."

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Information from: Austin American-Statesman, http://www.statesman.com

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