Nonprofit recycles paint, but also gives challenged adults meaningful work
If you're going to create a portrait of a socially-conscious company, you might as well paint with a broad brush.
That's exactly what Chris McCarthy has done with his Wood Dale-based company, EarthPaint. The nonprofit McCarthy founded about six years ago provides an answer to the dilemma that has forever stumped homeowners and businesses -- what to do with unused paint that collects in garages, basements and closets.
EarthPaint is one of a handful of companies -- and the only Midwest facility -- that takes in unused paint, remixes it and sells the new product. In addition to recycling paint, it breaks down old paint cans to prepare them for recycling as well.
But that's not all the good will EarthPaint provides. All of its employees are developmentally challenged adults who are working for pay and help McCarthy create solutions that serve the company's mission and goals.
It's a two-pronged goal that McCarthy said was developed to make EarthPaint an ecologically and socially responsible company.
"I created EarthPaint out of the necessity to provide some new opportunities," he said.
His employees come from several local organizations and handle everything from collecting and emptying paint cans to mixing and repackaging the new paint for sale. They also break down the old paint cans, clean and prepare them for recycling centers.
McCarthy said they are involved in day-to-day decisions and help him solve the many dilemmas that tend to rise up in the continually evolving business.
"We've been so very successful from day one. I don't know if it was because it's just very different, or if we're creating this on the abilities on each individual," he said, adding the energy and excitement his workers generate help fuel his focus to make sure the company maintains a high level of quality.
"The fact that everybody jumps in with a smile and finds gratification alongside me ... that is so rewarding."
Bringing together the two causes was natural for McCarthy. After years in the real estate and construction business -- as well running a painting company -- he eventually came to realize there was no local options to recycle paint.
"The number one question my customers asked me was 'what do I do to get rid of this old paint?'" he said. "And I said 'Well, I'll figure this out.'"
He was also a member of the junior board at Little City in Palatine and realized some of the residents had skills that lent themselves well to the project.
They started with a one-day paint drive at Little City. McCarthy notes he was apprehensive about the drive since the business model involved people paying a fee for disposing of their old paint.
"I wasn't sure it was going to work," he said. But after three hours, they collected 800 containers.
"People were driving by, then going home and collecting their paint and coming back," he added.
The operations and staff continued to grow to a point where McCarthy and his revolving staff of 14 moved from Little City to the larger facility in Wood Dale. With the move, EarthPaint also expanded its labor pool from Little City to other local groups, such as the North DuPage Special Education Cooperative.
The company received its nonprofit status 3½ years ago.
EarthPaint's main source of revenue continues to come from collecting unused paint through paint drives and from contractors and businesses. However, McCarthy hopes to bring in more revenue through the sale of recycled paint, which is just starting to gain public awareness.
After the paint has been sorted by several criteria, it is mixed together to create a color, McCarthy said. Once that color is achieved, the paint is mixed again, refiltered and packaged in 2-gallon containers.
McCarthy adds the quality of the recycled paint is as good as new paint.
"We're doing our best to make sure we keep the quality very high," he said. "We want to make sure people are blown away when they utilize our products."
The paint containers are sold for about $30 each at the Wood Dale facility and at Habitat for Humanity ReStore resale shops, where EarthPaint has a kiosk.
"We're building a market around a product that really isn't available in the Midwest at all," he said,
McCarthy suggests checking EarthPaint's website, www.earthpaint,org, to find locations where they will collect old paint, as well as any community paint drives they are participating in.
For the future, McCarthy sees expanding the company and its unique product and employment opportunities to more communities.
"Our big goal is to recreate the business somewhere that has a need for recycling and job opportunities for those with employment challenges," he said. "We're looking at ways to fund that expansion."
But, at the core, the business model will continue to be conscious of the ecological footprint it leaves,
"I don't want anything leaving our building if we can try to figure out how to properly recycle it."