WeFo says No to Australia’s first paint recycling facility


    By Ciara Duffy-Quinn and Barbara Heggen

    Residents of West Footscray and Maribyrnong have rallied together to stop Australia’s first Paintback recycling facility being set up in their neighbourhood.

    Last July, Wattyl Paints applied for a planning permit for a Paintback hazardous waste processing facility on Graingers Road in West Footscray.

    Paintback is a non-profit industry-led initiative designed to divert unwanted toxic paint and packaging from landfill and waterways. Participating members include industry heavyweights Wattyl, Dulux, and Bristol. 

    However, Paintback’s proposal has raised community concern due to the anticipated processing of around ten daily truckloads of solvent and water-based paint, operating from 7AM to 11PM Monday to Saturday in a predominantly residential area.

    The proposed site map indicates the recycling facility will be 32 metres from its nearest house, 100 metres from a childcare centre and local cafes, and 400 metres from local sports grounds and playgrounds.

    Despite numerous objections and a petition with 310 signatures submitted to the Maribyrnong City Council, Paintback successfully appealed the rejected planning permit application and the matter will now go to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT).

    The Residents Against Paintback (RAP) have raised more than $7,000 through GoFundMe to help pay for a planning consultant and odour expert in preparation for the VCAT hearing.

    RAP member Kelami Ata says it’s important for government and planners to consider the community’s vision for the future of their area. 

    “It’s not about what’s there already; it’s about what we want in the future. We all want to see the area cleaned up,” Ata says. “We think that we can get rid of the old industry and replace it with cleaner uses that are more compatible with nearby residential areas.”

    Daniel Wurm, Managing Director of Green Painters, believes opposition to the facility is unfortunate.

    “The painting industry needs a product stewardship scheme. It costs painters hundreds of dollars every year to dispose of paint waste, and a lot of paint was being dumped in the environment by the public.”

    While Mr Wurm is not affiliated with Paintback, in his role as manager of the National Painting and Decorating Institute he supported an industry levy for Paintback through submissions to ASIC.

    Currently, Australians are charged 15 cents plus GST on every litre of paint bought for sales between one and 20 litres, but according to a Choice investigation, Paintback does not have to reveal how much money has been raised or how that money has been spent.

    Daniel Wurm says this kind of secrecy does Paintback no favours in the community.

    “Paintback must communicate to the industry, government and the community about how they intend to address this,” he says. “I think education, transparency, and communication will go a long way to gaining support from the community and the industry stakeholders.”

    In an interview with sustainable business website The Fifth Estate last year, then Paintback CEO Karen Gomez confirmed that they still hadn’t found a viable way to recycle paint into a usable paint product. 

    She told Fifth Estate that most water-based paint collected so far had been sent to landfill and that solvent paint, which represents 30 percent of total paint streams, is being diverted from landfill to be used as an alternative to coal burnt in cement kilns.

    The Westsider contacted Paintback with a series of questions and received a statement from the interim CEO John Ferraro.

     “At no stage have we stockpile[d] collected materials,” he said. “Since inception in 2016, we have successfully collected and treated over 54 million kilograms of unwanted paint and packaging.”

    The statement did not reveal if the company has yet found a viable way to recycle paint into a usable paint product. You can read the whole statement from Paintback below.

    Daniel Wurm acknowledges that without knowing how Paintback plans to recycle paint it’s difficult to provide assurances that the process will be safe.

    “Paintback does not divulge this information and claims it is subject to patented processes that are confidential and commercial in-confidence. Therefore we are unaware of any evidence that it poses a threat to neighbours.”

    But he does point to other paint recycling examples overseas and says there have been no issues or problems reported by people living nearby.

    “There have been similar schemes operating overseas for several years. For example, the sister program in the US is called PaintCare. There have not been any reports of any harm to surrounding neighbourhoods.”

    However these sorts of assurances don’t rest easy with resident Kelami Ata as Paintback has already rejected the methods used overseas for not being time and/or cost effective.

    “We don’t want to be guinea pigs for this sort of this sort of facility that hasn’t been done anywhere else.” 

    The VCAT hearing was due to be held in late August but has now been postponed to a date TBC.

    Statement from Paintback:

    Paintback is a not-for-profit stewardship scheme led by the paint industry which is committed to diverting unwanted paint and packaging away from landfills and crucial waterways. Since inception in 2016, we have successfully collected and treated over 54 million kilograms of unwanted paint and packaging. We have collaborated with local councils and drop-off sites to establish an expansive national network, spanning over 165 locations and offering a service for over 85% of the general population.

    Our aim is to create a circular economy model for the paint industry. Our model is an exemplar for other industries and fits closely with the policy of all Australian Governments. To date we have used the commercial waste and recycling industry to treat our collected paint and packaging. Paintback is committed to research and development to continuously improve the recycling and repurposing of paint and its packaging. The proposed PaCE HQ is an extension of our commitment, integrating technologies and systems into the recycling and repurposing processes to reduce society’s reliance on virgin resources, minimises waste, and support circular economy principles.

    Paintback engaged specialists in construction, engineering, procurement and management, planning, noise, odour, traffic and legal to help create a project that meets or exceeds all Council planning and EPA licencing requirements. Council officers engaged external experts to review our proposal and recommended to Council that PaCE HQ be approved.

    Paintback is fully compliant with state and federal environmental, occupational health and safety and transportation standards. At no stage have we stockpile collected materials.

    John Ferraro

    Interim CEO, Paintback

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