Well-known global corporations, from Anheuser-Busch to Nike, have waded into the Green-Sports waters. While it makes sense for them to do so from PR and mission points of view, Green-Sports (for now) represents a small aspect of these companies’ businesses.
Then again, there are startups for which Green-Sports is a significant part of their raison d’être. Last year, GreenSportsBlog launched an occasional series, Green-Sports Startups that focuses on small (for now) companies and nonprofits that see the greening of sports as essential to their prospects for success.
In today’s sixth^ version of Green-Sports Startups, we bring you Yuck Old Paint (yup, that’s the name of the company), brainchild of Raea Jean Leinster, that finds second uses for stockpiles of leftover paint — including from places like Nationals Park in Washington, D.C.
Raea Jean’s story is colorful (there, I had to say it!), important and fun so ENJOY!
How does a Russian Studies major and a Czech minor who pursued a career path to work at the NSA, CIA and State Department and then became a concert violinist end up in the business of finding reuse opportunities for tons of cans of unused paint— from places like Nationals Park, home of the Washington Nats? And she calls her company Yuck Old Paint?
I know what you’re thinking: “This has to be FAKE NEWS!”
Nope. It’s the real, incredible story from the incredible Raea Jean Leinster.
FROM BRATISLAVA TO BELL LABS TO CONCERT VIOLINIST TO INTERIOR DESIGNER TO…
Leinster’s unlikely journey to becoming a Green-Sports pioneer started in an unlikely place: Bratislava, now the capital of Slovakia. But back in the late 80s-early 90s, just before the Soviet Union was about to collapse, Bratislava was part of Czechoslovakia. I’ll let Leinster pick up the story from there:
“I was in the middle of my Russian and Czech studies at George Mason University when the Soviet Union collapsed. So I dropped out of school to go to Czechoslovakia and teach English. While in Bratislava, I saw first-time-ever capitalist billboards in the former Eastern bloc for Apple, Coke and Marlboro. I asked myself, ‘how do these companies permeate a city like Bratislava when there was no real diplomatic US presence there?’ I realized that brands and business move faster than countries, so I redirected my career path to international business.”
Raea Jean Leinster, founder of Yuck Old Paint (Photo credit: Raea Jean Leinster)
Leinster returned to GMU and upon graduation went into the telecom industry just as AT&T was being deregulated: “I worked in telecom for ten years, helping MCI launch its ‘Friends and Family’ program and managed global channel communications and branding for Lucent Technologies for 80 countries before I was 30,” she recalled. “Then, in 2002-3, the telecom industry imploded and hundreds of thousands of people across the country lost their jobs, including me.”
So Leinster licked her wounds and took a gap year, spending much of it playing volleyball in the Virgin Islands. Batteries recharged, Leinster returned to Northern Virginia in 2004 and pivoted to a different career path, that of concert violinist/faux finisher/interior designer.
HOLD ON A SECOND…She became a concert violinist and a faux finisher? What the heck is that?
Turns out Leinster had been playing violin since she was a little girl, kept at it throughout her various adventures and continues to perform today with a variety of orchestras.
Raea jean Leinster (r), rehearsing with a string quartet at Georgetown University (Photo credit: Raea Jean Leinster)
And as a faux finisher, Leinster restored murals, became an expert in Venetian and Italian plasters, a gilding artist and created custom art in restaurants, commercial spaces and private homes.
A “contemporary metallic” faux finish from Raea Jean Leinster (Photo credit: Raea Jean Leinster)
And that led to…
…YUCK OLD PAINT
Over the next ten years, Leinster “…kept hearing a steady drumbeat of ‘Raea, can you help me get rid of these pallets of Sherwin-Williams off-white leftover paint in my building?’ or ‘Raea, I have 40 cans of paint in my garage. Can you take them?’”
Leinster’s initial answer was a flat NO — after all, what would she do with the paint? She didn’t have the space to store all the paint her clients asked her to take away, and in Virginia, the landfills are only permitted for residential use.
But in December 2012, she started to figure it out.
“A DC design client asked me to take away four paint cans at the end of a job. I have no idea why I said ‘yes’ after years of telling clients ‘no’. But I did,” recalled Leinster. “And to my surprise, a $25 Starbucks gift card accompanied the 4 gallons of paint that were left at the concierge desk.”
As Leinster drove away, she took stock of what just happened.
“My client was totally capable of taking the paint cans herself to the DC landfill,” Leinster thought to herself. “But she couldn’t be bothered with it.”
The client also didn’t care what Leinster did with the paint, but trusted her to do the right thing and handle it safely. The client gained more space in her condo and time.
“Turns out it was worth it to my client to compensate me for my trouble to pick up the paint and to do something with it,” said Leinster. “I then wondered, ‘How many other home owners are out there who would pay for a professional service to pick up leftover, unwanted, unused cans of latex paint?’”
Leinster spent 2013 beta testing the business concept and in April 2014 launched Yuck Old Paint, LLC.
Since then, the phone has not stopped ringing.
Four years later, Yuck Old Paint now counts among her clients several federal agencies, the U.S. Army. the Washington Nationals and Nationals Park.
“WE DON’T RECYCLE PAINT; WE HELP FIND USES FOR UNUSED PAINT”
Leinster’s business is based on the “reuse” model in lieu of recycling. “Our first step is to qualify paint for reuse,” reported Leinster. “About 75 percent of the paint we pick up in its original containers is perfectly good and useable.”
Yuck Old Paint gives the useable paint to theatre companies who use it for set design, and to local contractors looking for a specific type of paint. Much of it is distributed overseas, to developing countries for sale in hardware stores and for humanitarian construction projects.
Wait a second.
Yuck Old Paint gives the paint away?
Yes, that’s what they do. Because they are paid by customers who need the paint to go away a flat service fee plus a per-can price — $5 for one quart and one gallon can; $10 for a five-gallon bucket.
OK, back to what happens to the Yuck Old Paint.
“Twenty percent of the remaining liquid paint stockpile is not useable — think of it like sour milk,” continued Leinster. “That batch gets turned into solid waste material. Another five percent is solid and dry. In either case, we ensure it is no longer in liquid form, which is a hazard to local soil and water tables. Once it has been cured into a solid material, it is delivered into the solid waste stream.”
Some of the “sour”, unusable paint recovered by Yuck Old Paint after it has been cured into solid material using organic ingredients (Photo credit: Raea Jean Leinster)
YUCK OLD PAINT PARTNERS WITH THE WASHINGTON NATIONALS
“Before the start of each season, Nats management repaints the entire park: from the press box to the offices, from the locker rooms to the concession stands,” shared Leinster. “And every June we get a call from the Nats to remove between a half a ton and one ton of paint.
Unused paint outside of Nationals Park before it gets picked up by Yuck Old Paint (Photo credit: Raea Jean Leinster)
In addition to removing the paint from the ballpark, there are four important reasons the club is happy to have Yuck Old Paint on their green team:
- Adds to the team’s environmentally responsible brand — Nationals Park was the first LEED stadium in Major League Baseball.
- Earn up to 2 LEED points because they transfer the leftover latex paint waste to Yuck Old Paint, which employs a landfill diversion model.
- Win back much needed storage space. One ton of latex paint is about 225 single gallon cans. That takes up a lot of space! And Washington D.C., along with 44 states, has banned the commercial dumping of latex paints in the landfill. Before, Yuck Old Paint, the Nats’ only solution — as well as for many sports stadiums — was to stow it away.
- The Nats are no longer in violation of the fire code. Per Leinster,
“Even though latex paint is not combustible, it is flammable. And although how much paint commercial buildings and stadiums are allowed to have varies from city to city with no statewide or national standard, there’s no fire marshal who will look past 1 ton of latex paint as acceptable.”
“MOST PEOPLE DON’T KNOW THEY HAVE A PAINT PROBLEM”
Leinster, with the Nationals Park case study in her hip pocket, came to the Green Sports Alliance Summit in Atlanta in June, looking to attract other sports venues. “This was my first GSA Summit,” said Leinster. “I soon realized that most facilities managers and team owners have no idea they have a latex paint waste problem! We received some very enthusiastic responses from other Major League Baseball and NFL clubs. We look forward to working with them to be their latex paint and hazardous waste solutions provider. Which is great news for Yuck Old Paint.”
And it is great news for the environment.
^ The first five startups in the series were: Nube 9, a Seattle-based company committed to making recyclable sports uniforms; Underdogs United, which sells renewable energy credits to sports teams in the developed world that are generated by vital greening projects in the developing world; Phononic, a tech company that views sports venues as key to its ambition to disrupt the refrigeration market, leading to a meaningful reduction in carbon emissions; Play Fresh, a nonprofit that uses American football as a catalyst to help build environmental awareness among at-risk kids and teens; and Hytch, a Nashville-based startup that uses a state-of-the-art ride sharing app and financial rewards to encourage ride sharing to Nashville Predators games.
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