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Someone else's discarded paint can be on your walls

  • Author: Mike Dunham
  • Updated: June 30, 2016
  • Published April 29, 2011

Charles Oakley and Jorge C. Bailey are "spray can artists." You may have seen them at the Saturday Market, Alaska State Fair, Three Barons Fair and other venues. In what they describe as "performances," they create detailed pictures of mountains, whales, guitars, planets and such -- all in roughly eight minutes.

And they do most of it with paint that someone else has thrown away.

"About 60 percent of our art uses recycled paint," said Bailey.

The artists appreciate the eco-friendly aspect of their medium. And they like the fact that they get it for free through the Municipality of Anchorage Hazardous Waste Reuse Program.

So can anyone else.

The program, contracted to Emerald Alaska, a branch of Seattle-based Emerald Services, gives away orphaned paint and more at the Anchorage Regional Landfill near Eagle River and the Central Transfer Station near the Old Seward Highway and International Airport Road.

Emerald accepts cans of discarded paint and other household materials deemed to be hazardous. Materials that are still usable for their intended purpose go on shelves where the public can take them home.

Oakley and Bailey are among their most frequent customers.

"But we get first pick," said Roxanne Pedersen, who manages the reuse facility at the landfill. Her office is painted in a shade of ivory white gleaned from tossed paints.

"Anything that's sort of gray we save it and use it for floor paint."

In March, Pedersen recorded taking in 20,500 pounds of latex paints plus another 12,500 pounds of flammables, solvents and so forth. She gave away 182 pounds of latex and 1,232 pounds of flammables.

One of three things happens to the rest. Otherwise unusable contents are filtered and sorted. Some goes to Alaska Sand and Gravel, where it's added to concrete, Pedersen said. Some is shipped to Tacoma where it is used as an alternative fuel in industrial furnaces approved for the purpose.

The stuff that's too far gone is put in barrels. Bentonite (a clay also used in drilling mud, cat litter and white wine) is added, turning the goop into a big, 55-gallon brick which is then buried in the landfill.

Items found on the shelves last week included -- mostly full -- gallons of interior latex paint and a host of little cans of wood stains ideal for small craft projects. There were larger containers of mineral spirits and paint remover, plus insecticides, herbicides, tile grout, roof coating and other construction adhesives.

Some cans had never been opened except when a worker checked their condition and left a dab on their lids to identify the color.

Petersen said that people needing more than one gallon for a job will sometimes seek out several similar shades and blend them together.

Some of the items were fairly old. Oakley told of finding a gorgeous turquoise, "The most beautiful I ever saw." He wanted more, but it's not likely he'll get any. The can was from 1964 -- and still usable more than 40 years later.

Perhaps the biggest spoiler of otherwise good paint is freezing, Pedersen said. It can be as much of a problem for oil-based paints as it can for water-based latex.

While the paint and other products are free for the taking, it will cost you to drop them off. The charge for disposing paint is 50 cents a pound. (A bathroom scale gives the weight of a gallon of latex as about eight pounds.) Non-regulated adhesives such as caulk and cement are 25 cents a pound and poisons, like weed killers, are $1 a pound.

Pickings were lean recently at both locations.

"It gets skimpy in the winter," said Pederson. "We'll get a lot more in here after spring cleanup."

The Chamber of Commerce's Annual Citywide Cleanup starts today.

Skimpy or not, the recycling rack is a bargain. This reporter walked out with most of a bottle of Brasso metal cleaner and a pint-size spritzer of D3 Discwasher, an alcohol solution for cleaning LP records that hasn't been seen in stores since the 1980s. Two-ounce vials of the stuff go for $15 plus shipping on eBay.

If frugal do-it-yourselfers were to descend on supplies and leave Oakley and Bailey without their free paint, the artists think that would be a good thing.

"I do a lot of artwork and I see a lot of waste," said Oakley. "I'm thoroughly depressed every time I go to the dump.

"Nothing would make me happier than to go in and see those racks empty. I hate the idea of tossing the old paint into the environment. My motto is, it's better on the walls than in the ground."

Reach Mike Dunham at or 257-4332.

Charles Oakley says artists are the ultimate recyclers -- or should be.

"We gotta be good stewards on this planet," he says. "And I don't know an artist out there who can afford to spend as much as he wants on new materials."

After the 2008 election, he gathered stakes from a myriad of political signs left littering his Anchorage neighborhood, glued them together and carved them into a statue of a killer whale.

In addition to using recycled paint, he and Jorge C. Bailey use old magazines to help frame and edge their pictures.

The spray can art produces a lot of fumes. Some spray can artists have been barred from returning to the State Fair, Oakley says.

He saw a vented table being used by Las Vegas spray canners and created his own out of recycled parts. It sucks off the fumes and filters them, ejecting clean air. He and Bailey now use it when they work in public.

After building his table, however, he discovered that the Las Vegas gizmo didn't actually filter the fumes. It just blew them into the air somewhere away from the painters.

"So I have a one-of-a-kind," Oakley says with a laugh. "You can actually use it indoors!"

Information about his work, including a gallery and video of him and Bailey in action, can be found at

Spring cleaning in the city

Anchorage Chamber of Commerce citywide cleanup week is today through May 7. Groups, teams and organizations can pick up orange trash bags at any Fred Meyer location. Families and students can pick up bags at any local school starting at 10 a.m. today, returning full bags at 2 p.m. Students collecting the most trash will receive an iPod Shuffle. More information at

Hazardous waste reuse program

Emerald Alaska offices are open to the public from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday- Saturday at the Anchorage Regional Landfill, off the Glenn Highway at Hiland Road, and 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday at the Anchorage Central Transfer Station, off the Old Seward Highway at 54th Avenue and Juneau Street.Free dump days 8 a.m.-5 p.m. today and May 7, and noon-5 p.m. May 1 at the Anchorage Regional Landfill and the Anchorage Central Transfer Station, off the Old Seward Highway at 54th Avenue and Juneau Street. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. today, May 1 and 7 at the Girdwood Transfer Station.