Hirshfield’s Reprocessed Paint

Hirshfield’s, a paint manufacturer in Minneapolis, worked with Hennepin County to reprocess interior latex paint from the county household hazardous waste collection program. One thousand gallons of paint were reprocessed and 75 percent of it was applied to the new Hennepin County Public Works building.

Hirshfield’s met with the county to detail the sorting protocol. About ten percent of the latex paint not suitable for citizen reuse was suitable for reprocessing. They met with the architects to pick colors that they felt they could create from the reprocessed paint. They decided to tint the paint six different colors.


Paint was processed in 500 gallon batches. Quality control was an issue. “With virgin materials, you know precisely what you’re working with. (But with the waste paint) you have to take something that is not quite right and make it usable,” says Mark Uglem, executive vice president of Hirshfield’s.

Hirshfield’s screened the paint to remove any undissolved solids and remixed the paint. The paint was thin and needed to be built up. It also needed pigments added to allow for better coverage. Hirshfield’s ran the normal battery of tests on all batches of paint. “With virgin it’s usually a ten to 15 minute procedure to get the okay before packaging,” says Uglem. The reprocessed paint can take a day in tweaking to get it right. After adjustments, the reprocessed paint was comparable to a similar quality virgin paint.

Hirshfield’s was concerned about bacterial contamination  of waterbased materials. “You just don’t know what’s going to be in the paint,” says Uglem. To prevent contamination of their operation, Hirshfield’s sterilized its equipment after reprocessing.

VOC-Content Limits for Coatings and Consumer Products
The EPA finalized regulations limiting the amount of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in architectural coatings, automobile refinish coatings and consumer products. By providing federal standards, EPA hopes to make the rules governing VOC content consist and uniform. Previously, there were many varying local limits. The rules can be found in the Federal Register, September 11, 1998. Find them on the Web, choose September then scroll down to the EPA rules section. Direct questions to Steve Rosenthal, EPA Region V, Chicago, 312.886.6052.


Concerns were raised about potential indoor air quality issues. Testing showed no problems. But, the county decided to act conservatively and only use the paint in well ventilated areas that would not be immediately occupied. The reprocessed paint was applied to concrete block and sheetrock walls in shop and warehouse areas. Offices and conference rooms were also painted.

“It applied like any other paint,” says Bob Swanson of Swanson and Youngdale, the painting contractor for the public works building. “We didn’t notice any difference in application.”

Reprocessed paint cannot be matched for touch up painting because of the variability in the base tint of the feedstock. When the extra paint runs out, an entire wall would need to be repainted.

After six months, the paint is performing like virgin paint according to Wayne Johnson, Public Works building manager. He would like more reprocessed paint to apply in the other shops.

“The concept of recycled paint works very, very well,” says Uglem. “Remanufacturing paint is a good thing for the industry to do.” It can take a lot of paint out of the waste steam.

The cost to reprocess the old paint was higher than the cost to dispose of it. But, Hennepin County saved money overall because purchasing a comparable virgin paint would have cost them three to five dollars more per gallon than their reprocessed paint.

Contractors may have excess paint to contribute to or initiate a reprocessing project. Consider specifying reprocessed paint in construction or remodeling projects. For additional information on recycled latex paint, contact Steve Blomberg of Hirshfield’s Paint Manufacturing.

This article was originally published in the 1999 Winter issue of the Source.