Environmental Performance

By Tom Williams | August 9, 2005

Coatings companies from around the globe have realized the environmental benefits of being more environmentally conscious.

In recent years, society, through both sentiment and promulgated regulatory action, has grown more aware of the impact industry has upon the environment. Along with other businesses, paint and coatings companies are held increasingly responsible for the effect their processes and products have on the environment. Combined with the genuine concern of most companies, this has led to a slew of new initiatives on behalf of environmental improvement, as well as the continued development of more environmentally friendly products.

"Today, companies are held responsible to a much higher degree than in the past for the impact of production activities and possible side effects of their products," said Klaus Mathias, chairman of the safety, health and environment (SHE) operating group, CEPE.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), wastes generated at paint manufacturing facilities include equipment cleaning wastes, spills and area washdowns, off-specification paint, bags and packages, air emissions, filter cartridges, obsolete products and customer returns. In recent years, the paint and coatings industry has worked diligently to address concerns in almost every one of these areas. The success of these initiatives has not escaped the radar of many environmental watchdog groups, which have maintained that while there is still room for improvement, the paint and coatings industry is making great strides regarding its impact upon the environment.

Efforts Within the U.S.
With nearly 1,500 manufacturing plants producing more than one billion gallons of paint per year, the U.S. paint industry is "a significant customer group for waste service vendors," according to EPA. A study performed by EPA in the late 1990s revealed that non-wastewater generation at U.S. plants ranged from 300 to 450 pounds per 1,000 gallons of paint produced. According to the same study, however, paint companies have improved their relationship with the environment in recent years. "Reducing the amount of paint that is wasted or thrown away, making sure our plants do not adversely affect the communities in which they operate and working efficiently to avoid waste of materials and energy are primary concerns," said Carl Minchew, Benjamin Moore's director of technical services and environmental affairs. "Knowledge is the key. Knowing the correct processes and procedures and ensuring they are followed by everyone involved is the best way to minimize adverse impacts. A lot of damage is done, not by accident or lack of concern, but through lack of knowing what matters and what to do about it."

Fortunately, U.S. companies are beginning to discover that plans that help protect the environment also have economic and public relations benefits. One area where some companies have had success is paint recycling. "We are a recycler," said Bill Rosenthal, director of environmental training services at Los Angeles, CA-based Ellis Paint Co. "Through one of our divisions, we take paint and paint-related materials into our facility and blend them as an alternative fuel that is shipped out to various cement kilns in the midwest. They use it for manufacturing cement and it qualifies under EPA as a recycling credit. So, we help industry�we save them money, we save them taxes, they get the benefit of recycling and it provides a business opportunity for us."

"We serve as the host collection site for Hudson County, NJ household hazardous waste collection days," said Ed Norton III, vice president of manufacturing at Bayonne, NJ-based The Muralo Company, Inc. "For the last five years we have recycled the collected latex paint for the county. This process has been an overwhelming success. Not only are we diverting this material from the landfills, it is being reclaimed as useful material to be used by the local municipalities and any qualified not-for-profit groups in graffiti clean-ups and beautification projects. Our years of success and increasing volume is proof that it can and does work."

While certain paint recycling initiatives have experienced success, not every company views this as a viable option. However, economic benefits have made solvent recycling practices almost standard in the paint and coatings industry. "We re-use virtually all of the solvent wash generated during clean-up at our facilities," said Mr. Minchew of Benjamin Moore. "By segregating and carefully handling wash solvent it can be re-used relatively easily and no waste results because you re-use the solids too."

A division of Ellis Paint has taken its solvent recovery program one step further, creating new business opportunities for itself by offering such services to outside companies. "We have two solvent recovery programs in place," said Mr. Rosenthal. "We service about 2,900 auto body shops in California. We provide them with clean lacquer thinner and also pump out the paint-related waste material and bring it back and blend it in our facility. These programs give people a cost-effective option. It allows us to manage the waste material efficiently so that it doesn't end up in places in you don't want it. It also provides a product at an efficient price that people can use in industry."

As a result of economic concerns, waste minimization during production has also become increasingly important in recent years, a factor that has also decreased the environmental impact of paint and coatings manufacturing. "Waste is expensive," said Mr. Minchew. "First you buy the material, then you get no benefit from it because it isn't part of a product, then you pay to haul it away."

"Our approach to waste minimization is multifaceted," said Mr. Norton of The Muralo Company. "The goal of minimizing waste during manufacturing begins with the scheduling process. Batches are made in a sequence that eliminates wash down. They are scheduled by color and emulsion to reduce the quantity of washing required. High-pressure wash down guns are used for all washing to reduce the quantity of water used and improve cleaning efficiency. All our wash water is recycled with zero discharge as our goal."

An added bonus of the efforts undertaken by these and other companies has been good public relations. In the case of Benjamin Moore, its focus on environmental performance has lead to its participation in the Keystone Group's Environmental Education program, as well as cooperation with the Wildlife Habitat Council and The Raptor Trust, a Millington, NJ-based rehabilitation center for injured and orphaned birds. In conjunction with its environmental initiatives, Ellis Paint has become directly involved with its community through its relationship with Mothers of East Los Angeles (MELA). "Because our facility is near some residential areas and there is always some concern when you have manufacturing in a close proximity to residences, we had MELA in to tour our facility, and they now strongly support our operation as a whole," said Mr. Rosenthal.

Going Green Goes Global
In many cases, the environmental initiatives of companies with foreign headquarters have mirrored those of U.S.-based companies�especially in relation to the economic benefits that stem from such actions.

"Two years ago we instituted our ECO2 program," said Joe Gdowski, global technical director at BASF Corp. "That stands for 'ecology and economy,' which is the focus of our R&D programs. From the ecology standpoint, we are looking not only at reducing the VOC emissions of our coatings, but also at developing processes that our customers can use that are more eco-efficient. Ecology and economy go hand in hand, one doesn't come at the expense of the other."

This fact has prominently resulted in the establishment of solvent recovery programs by paint and coatings manufacturers outside the U.S. "In our industrial plants, where we use most of our solvents, we have recycling programs in place," said Rodrigue Bauge, manager, engineering, environment and industrial hygiene at Quebec, Canada-based Sico. "It's definitely a plus for us as far as cost is concerned, as it is much less expensive than using new solvents every time. It also meets the environmental soundness that we are establishing within our processes. Not disposing of this solvent is of great importance to us."

"Most of our sites have either on-site recovery systems or contracts with third parties for the recycling of solvents, which are then re-used," added Arthur Ohm, manager, quality, health, safety and environment (QSHE) at Akzo Nobel. "The benefits of this are obvious, less costs for purchasing and reduced burden for the environment."

In Australia, the success of a solvent recovery program instituted by Wattyl is as an example of just how economically feasible such programs are. It took the company only one year to recoup a $100,000 investment in its solvent recovery program. Instead of paying a third party to dispose of solvents, Wattyl is now recovering up to 90% of the solvents and is using it to produce other paint products. According to the company, the process also recovers up to 60% of previously wasted paint, and has resulted in the creation of a new product from the distillery sludge.

The same combination of economic and environmental concerns has also lead other companies to minimize waste through quality and process control programs. "The volume of waste generated is quantified at the source and measured as a ratio of production volume," commented Mr. Ohm of Akzo Nobel. "The waste stays separated; we collect different waste streams. For each of those waste streams, there are separate waste reduction programs, overseen by a dedicated waste manager per site. Keeping the different kinds of waste apart helps reduce each one individually. The waste reduction program saves raw materials and production costs, and it benefits the environment."

BASF has developed a new application processes in order to reduce waste and save money in its automotive coatings operations. According to Environmental Defense, a leading environmental watchdog group formerly known as the Environmental Defense Fund, the majority of VOC emissions created during the painting or coating of automobiles occurs in the final stage of the process when a color coat and clearcoat are applied. With this in mind, BASF and Mercedes Benz developed an entirely new process. "We apply the primer base coat and clearcoat wet on wet on wet and in one bake," said Mr. Gdowski. "In a typical process, there is a bake between the primer and the base coat. We've been able to reduce that to a very short flash at a low temperature and eliminate a bake. We are saving construction costs, facility costs and energy."

Environmental Regulations Across Regions
One aspect of the environmental issues faced by today's manufacturers are the different regulations they operate under depending on which country, or countries, they operate in. In Finland specifically, the headquarters for paint and coatings manufacturer Tikkurila Coatings Oy, the European Union's solvent directive will come into effect this April. According to this regulation, industrial sectors that use organic solvents must reduce VOC emissions by 20-50% from 1997 levels. "The directive is designed to yield a 67% reduction in VOC emissions from the specified solvent-using industries within nine years," said Yvonne Browne, editor, SHE Alert, Paint Research Association (PRA).

While companies that are already operating will have until October 2007 to meet these standards, Tikkurila has chosen to be proactive, installing a catalytic incinerator for solvent emissions at its plants in Vantaa, Finland. "It decreases the emissions by 95%," said Pekka Kotilainen, environmental manager at Tikkurila Oy. "In addition, in our closed process we distill the washing solvents for re-use. We make annual plans in order to minimize waste, with the goal being continuous improvement."

Tikkurila has also included the VOC-value of particular products in all its product descriptions and is developing software that will enable customers to calculate the level of solvent emissions created in the production process. Also in development is software that will help customers calculate the emissions reduction target.

Akzo Nobel has also chosen to take proactive measures when it comes to meeting European environmental standards. In 1999, the company established new corporate health, safety and environment (HSE) targets for 2005 that reflect major reductions for five key performance indicators. Included among these goals were a 30% reduction in VOC emissions and a 20% reduction in the creation of non-reusable waste. "All our business units have special reduction targets for these key performance indicators in their three year's planning," Mr. Ohm said. "From 2001, the businesses will report on the indicators quarterly."

Organizational Efforts
While paint and coatings companies in the U.S. and abroad have undoubtedly made notable environmental improvements, perhaps the greatest impact in this area has been achieved through the actions of organizations that facilitate industry-wide initiatives. Such organizations include the U.S.-based National Paint and Coatings Association (NPCA), as well as organization such as CEPE, the Canadian Paint and Coatings Association (CPCA) and the Australian Paint Manufacturers Association (APMF) among others.

The program that has had the greatest impact on the paint and coatings industry is Coatings Care, a comprehensive environmental program covering all aspects of paint-related environmental impact. The program defines the exact responsibilities of paint manufacturers, distributors and suppliers, as well as retailers and consumers, when making decisions about paint that impact the environment. So important is the scope of this program that while the majority of NPCA members already voluntarily adhere to its standards, in October 2000, the NPCA membership approved a by-laws change making Coatings Care participation a requirement. In addition, NPCA is also investigating ways to utilize Coatings Care to meet ISO 14001 standards on environmental management systems. According to NPCA, "Considerable progress has been made in promoting the Coatings Care program, with nearly 300 companies now voluntarily participating, and only a small number of companies withholding their commitment. Full participation is critical to demonstrate the industry's commitment to effectively manage its health, safety and environmental responsibilities."

CPCA is also extremely active in promoting the Coatings Care program. Its web site, www.cdnpaint.org, takes visitors through each and every facet of the program with detailed charts and descriptions of issues like air pollution and management of post-consumer paint. In addition, the CPCA has expanded its efforts to include working with the Canadian government to study VOC levels in paints. Beginning in the early 1990s, the association agreed to gather information on the VOC content of all consumer paint sold in Canada and to provide the results to the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment (CCME) and Environment Canada. According to CPCA, from 1991 to 1995 a 20.1% reduction in VOCs in consumer paints was reported.

Future Legislation
Due to the evolving nature of environmental concerns, paint and coatings companies always need to keep a sharp eye on the future. This is especially important, as keeping abreast of future legislative initiatives allows companies to prepare.

One endeavor currently being undertaken by the EPA is determining whether to classify paint production wastes as "listed" environmental hazards. At present, solvent cleaning wastes, water/caustic cleaning wastes, wastewater treatment sludges, emission control dust/sludges, and off-specification paint production wastes are characterized as hazardous only when they contain toxic chemicals or are ignitable. The EPA's possible actions in this area are centered upon its concern that a significant amount of waste of this kind is being disposed of in sanitary landfills.

According to NPCA, it appears that EPA will propose to "list" some paint production waste, with the rule being finalized by the spring of 2002. If "listed," such waste will be labeled as hazardous, resulting in the onus being placed upon manufacturers to dispose of it according to strict waste management requirements. As a result, "Waste disposal costs may increase and a facility may need to obtain permits to handle such wastes," according to the NPCA. "In addition, paint manufacturing facilities may find it more difficult to recycle or reuse paint production wastes if these wastes are listed."

Also possibly having an affect on the environmental initiatives of paint and coatings companies are the actions of the Coatings and Consumer Products Group (CCPG) of EPA. The CCPG will continue to develop regulations for a number of categories of industrial surface coating and composite operations in coming years. It appears that this will remain a fact for industry in the U.S. and abroad. "In the long term, the entire paint industry will increasingly move away from the use of solvent-borne products," said Merja Koivisto, coating technical manager at Tikkurila Oy. "Environmental viewpoints are clearly the most important change factor in the industry."

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