Recycler wants to paint the town green

After a 20-year career in the sales end of the paint industry, Jim Cosby found himself without a job, but not without options.

Last April he opened ePaint Recycling in an old Army supply building located off of Dickman Road at 24 Brydges Drive in Battle Creek.

Now he's saving the environment while painting the town.

"I started this operation with a couple hundred bucks," Cosby says. "I created a job for myself and two other people and it's growing."

Growing so well that later this year he hopes to move into a larger facility, one with a couple thousand more feet of space and concrete floor as opposed to the wooden ones in his current space.

The building currently housing ePaint is 10,000 square feet. Though dated, it's home to a cutting-edge concept designed to keep as much paint as possible from ending up in landfills.

It's an idea Cosby says he spent four years researching.

The paint to be recycled arrives at ePaint in one of two ways -- either through environmental recycling companies or private citizens.

Cosby and his colleagues examine the paint to determine if it's still usable. Customers are charged $2 for each can they drop off, which is about what it would cost to responsibly dispose of the paint elsewhere, Cosby says.

"Every can we receive we open and we group the paint by color. We're particular about the way we do that," Cosby says. "We examine it and if it's still usable paint we will mix it up and pour it into a drum of the same color paint. The (empty) can is then crushed and the metal and plastic are recycled. Close to 100 percent of what we receive is recycled."

Paint that arrives in a frozen state or smells bad is treated differently.

"We'll pour the liquids off the top of the bad paint and will use those liquids in a product to make mulch dye," Cosby says. "If we can salvage those contents it gets put in to another bulk drum as an additive for concrete."

On average, about 1 or 2 percent of what comes into ePaint is thrown away. In any given week the company will take in and open 2,000 cans of paint and turn around and manufacture 1,000 gallons of paint.

That's a lot of paint that won't see a landfill.

Other companies use a method of paint disposal that calls for mixing paint with kitty litter, then waiting for that mixture to dry. In a solid form, the paint becomes encapsulated in a protective coating of inks and dyes that will never decompose.

"That stuff's going to be there forever," Cosby says. "You essentially strip the earth of clay to make kitty litter to encapsulate paint in a landfill.

"The minute that Waste Management or BFI takes that garbage 'for free' -- there will be a cost associated with it somewhere," Cosby says.

His method of disposal has a cost associated with it, but the cost is not lasting damage to the planet. The costs instead are production expenses associated with creating affordable paint for private and commercial uses.

Cosby sells the paint to whomever wants to buy it. Among the business' major clients are Habitat with Humanity Restores, which buys the ePaint for less than $5 per gallon and sells it for $9.99 a gallon – easily less than the price charged for name-brand paints.

Since starting up ePaint last April, Cosby says he has sold more than 7,000 gallons of paint.

In addition to giving new life to old paint, Cosby also makes his own textured paint. It can withstand occurrences such as chairs rubbing up against it. This paint has been used an area Mexican restaurant to give its walls a textured look.

Cosby makes this product with latex paint and crushed, recycled glass.

The route Cosby took from working for someone else to business owner was circuitous. After graduating from Western Michigan University in 1990 with a degree in Industrial Marketing, he went to work for a paint contractor. Next, he joined a wallpaper company and sold paint in Chicago. Then he was laid off. 

He and his family moved back to the Kalamazoo area and Cosby founded Cosby Coating Corp.

"It was tough because the economy took a dump," he says. "I dissolved CCC a few years ago."

At this point, Cosby says, his wife and the rest of his family told him to "just find a job Jimmy."

What he found was a calling as much as a job, one he's always wanted to do.

"I can't change what's inside of me," Cosby says, "and this whole recycling paint operation is a journey meant for me."

Jane C. Parikh is a freelance reporter and writer with more than 20 years of experience and also is the owner of In So Many Words based in Battle Creek.

Photos by Erik Holladay.

Jim Cosby owner of ePaint Recycle LLC.

Paint is collected by dripping into larger barrels. As soon as there is enough paint in the barrel it is sent to a mixer to be recycled into new paint.

New paint is poured into plastic paint cans that also can be recycled after their are finished being used.

Very little is left over for the landfill. After paint cans are emptied they are crushed and sent out to the scrap metal.

The new paint is sold for $9.99 a gallon.

Jim Cosby stands in the warehouse filled with old paint waiting to be recycled.

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