Europe Reports

European Report

By Sean Milmo | August 11, 2005

The European Union has adopted new legislation on steps to reduce the emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from decorative and auto-repair paints approximately 10 years after the measures were first muted.

Now, the next challenge is to ensure that the regulations are implemented consistently and uniformly throughout the EU. The legislation has been created in the form of a directive which has to be incorporated into national laws within each EU member state.

The ways in which the new rules are drawn up and enforced at the national level will be particularly important to small- and medium-sized (SMEs) firms for whom compliance could be extremely expensive.

"This legislation will be very tough for some SMEs, particularly in southern European countries where a lot of decorative paints still have a high solvent content," said one industry source. "Some of these small producers may disappear."

Frequently countries take their time amending or creating national rules to bring in EU legislation. They tend to be particularly slow with environmental regulations which can be intricate and controversial.

An earlier directive on controls of solvents emissions from industrial coatings, cleaning and related products had been enacted by only two out of 15 EU member states by a deadline of April 2001.

By early this year, it had still not been fully enforced in all 15 EU countries. The European Commission, the EU executive, has had to threaten the UK, one of the Union's largest states, with legal action because it has been taking so long to carry out the regulations.

Fewer Obstacles This Time?
The European coatings industry is hoping that the directive on decorative and auto-refinishing coatings will run up against fewer obstacles at the national level.

The solvent emissions directive (SED), which went through many drafts, was the subject of heated debate over several years. By contrast the latest directive was approved by the European Parliament and Council of Ministers, representing EU government, in little over a year.

The major difference between the two pieces of legislation is that the objective behind the new directive is to cut emissions through rules on the solvent content of paints. The target is to reduce VOCs emissions from the two classes of coatings by more than 40% or around 280,000 metric tons by 2010.

The SED allows coatings users to choose between a number of options including low-solvent or solvent-free paints, the installation of abatement equipment or recycling methods.

"You really can't compare the two directives because the SED is far more complicated," explained Jacques Warnon, technical director at the European Council of Paint, Printing Ink and Artists' Colours Industry (CEPE), the EU coatings trade association.

"The new directive is a relatively simple piece of legislation which went through the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers comparatively quickly," he added.

CEPE welcomes the directive because it both cuts ground-level ozone pollution and harmonizes rules within EU states on the amounts of solvents in paints.

"The directive offers the opportunity for a level playing field in the EU countries," said Jean Schoder, CEPE's secretary general. "It builds on work started by CEPE in the early 1990s but takes into account current and projected knowledge as well as the requirements of the key players."

"The work accomplished by and the dialogue between industry experts and those of the EU Commission and the various other parties have resulted in a challenging but achievable directive that will lead to real reductions in VOC emissions," he continued.

The legislation sets a target for 2007 for an initial cut in solvent levels. The final deadline has been fixed for 2010 for the achievement of the full reduction target.

Much remains to be sorted out between CEPE and the European Commission so that guidelines can be passed down to individual member states. One matter still to be decided, for example, is exactly what will be the solvent reduction requirements of different types of paints.

"There are a large number of different types of decorative paints on the market and we need to agree which category within the directive they come under," said Warnon.

CEPE claims that analytical test methods which will be used to monitor compliance with the legislation needs to be improved. In some cases this may require the development of more sophisticated technologies.

Still to be resolved
Another key issue to be resolved is exactly how much VOCs are being currently discharged by decorative and auto refinishing paints. The Commission estimates that annual emissions from the two kinds of coatings total approximately 425,000-475,000 tons. But CEPE believes that more accuracy is needed on the quantities of solvents in the paints.

"It is very difficult to collect the correct amounts from the 3,000-4,000 companies which are involved in the European decorative sector, some of which have only a few employees," explained Warnon.

"We will be collecting more data ourselves and then fine tuning it," he continued. "We need to look at specialist products, for example, which might have relatively high amounts of solvents but whose total VOC emissions are low."

Confusion in Auto Repair?
The auto refinishing sector could face a period of confusion because some countries have already introduced their own product-based regulations to ensure that vehicle repair coatings are covered by the solvent emissions legislation. Now these regulations may have to be amended to comply with the new product directive.

In the UK, the government is planning to abandon current product-oriented rules on restrictions of VOC emissions in auto-repair shops in favor of the application controls of the solvent-emissions directive when it comes into force in the country in October 2005.

"A large number of refinishing shops could find that two years later in 2007 they will have to revert back to a product-based system of emission limits as laid down in the new EU directive," explained Tony Newbould, technical director at the British Coatings Federation (BCF). "We are hoping to get the government to understand what problems its present plans will cause."

Overall, EU legislation on decorative and auto-refinishing paints will be expensive for operators in both sectors. A large proportion of the extra costs will be in the reformulation of products but additional money will also have to be invested in marketing, education and training.

"The cost effects will not just be confined to the manufacturers but will extend down through the supply chain to the retailers and their staff and even to consumers," said Warnon.

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