Too often, beautifying the inside of your home involves trashing the outside. Almost anyone who has had builders through has stories to tell of paint crews leaving a trail of single-bladed razors in the garden, used to clean up paint overlap on window panes. The weeks spent digging out the new vegetable plot, then the years spent religiously improving it with manure and mulch can be wrecked in a trice when a painter decides to clean his brushes in the yard, using your garden hose.
Remonstrations won't necessarily get the point across: The same painter might just clean the next brush, the oil-based one, with turpentine, over your compost heap around to the side.
Home owners and apartment dwellers may complain about the hired help, but we do-it-ourselfers are rarely more responsible. The second-most harmful way of cleaning brushes and disposing of paint waste is in the sink. This is also unsafe and illegal. It gums up drains, water treatment plants and, in a nutshell, feeds contaminants into the public water supply.
The least-used method for safe paint disposal is the only legal one: taking the brushes, the wash water, the old paint, the thinner and turpentine to any of five city of Los Angeles SAFE Centers for free disposal.
It isn't hard, but to do it, it's best to avoid accumulating too much waste water and solvents. To cut down, paint brushes should not be cleaned during jobs. If you break overnight, brushes and rollers should be kept in water to keep either oil or latex paint from drying. At the close of a job, if you are going to clean brushes for reuse, they should be cleaned over old paint buckets. The water, thinner or turpentine should be captured, the bucket resealed and taken to the waste site for safe disposal.
For home owners, once you arrive at a city waste site, you won't need money or identification. The first 15 gallons are free. However, a pollster might ask your ZIP Code -- the city is interested in auditing our habits. (Valley residents are far more conscientious than basin dwellers, says Wayne Omokawa, a management analyst with the city of Los Angeles' Bureau of Sanitation.)
There are special times when painting companies can deliver waste. They will be charged $1 a pound. They will also be encouraged to register for Environmental Protection Agency identification numbers, so the government can keep track of how much hazardous waste is being carried over highways. There is no pressure to produce proof of residency or citizenship.
The cost, says Omokawa, is low, and he encourages paint companies to break it out on bills. In his experience, clients will not resent it, he says, but be reassured that the paint waste from their jobs is being disposed of legally and safely.
The good news for companies that register and recycle, he adds, is that once the facility takes the paint, the city assumes responsibility for its disposal.
Wes Wesolowski is an environmental specialist with PSC, the company that does the actual recycling for the city. If you deliver latex and oil-based paint waste separately, it helps with recycling, he says. The latex will be combined into large drums and sent for reprocessing into concrete. Oil-based paints will be either reprocessed for fuel, or incinerated.
Why bother? "Because," says Wesolowski, "Los Angeles is trying to save the world, one paint can at a time."
Disposing of the leftovers
City of Los Angeles SAFE Centers
San Pedro: 1400 N. Gaffey St., Friday through Sunday, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Playa Del Rey: Hyperion Treatment Plant, 7660 W. Imperial Highway, Gate B, Saturday and Sunday, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Sun Valley: 11025 Randall St., Saturday to Monday, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Westwood: UCLA, 550 Charles E. Young Drive W., Thursday through Saturday, 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Boyle Heights: 2649 E. Washington Blvd., Friday through Sunday, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Note: Drop-off times for commercial painters are different. For information about safe paint disposal for contractors and homeowners, call Pat McKnight at (213) 473-8277 or (800) 988-6942.