In the coatings sector these value chain cover the raw materials for the wide range of chemicals used in coatings formulation to the use of the paint itself in sectors like construction, automobile, marine and aerospace.
Now, however the scope of the value chains themselves are being lengthened in Europe, resulting from the introduction at the national and European Union level of the idea of a circular economy.
This attempts to change the current economic system, prevalent since the industrial revolution in Europe, under which growth is based on the manufacture and consuming of products and then disposing of them as waste. It is derived from what is increasingly being seen as an outdated belief that resources will remain abundant without the need for their reuse.
So Europe has been adopting a resource efficiency agenda, in which a cradle-to-grave approach is replaced by a cradle-to-cradle or circular arrangement.
For Europe greater resource efficiency has become vital because it is so dependent on imported raw materials.
The emergence of the circular economy backed by closed-loop schemes in which disposal is replaced by reuse is changing concepts of sustainability – at least in Europe. Sustainability is not just about launching coatings and other products on the market which will help preserve the environment and protect human health. They also need to be safe to recycle, particularly by reusing them, once they reach the end of their conventional life cycle.
“Closed loop schemes help to make sustainability an even bigger force,” explained Tom Bowtell, chief executive of the British Coatings Federation (BCF). “The more people start to talk about sustainability and the circular economy the more they will understand that sustainability is part of the solution to the issues of resources and global warming.”
The BCF has just launched a campaign in the UK, called Paintcare, which is one of the first of its kind in Europe, for the remanufacture of waste decorative paint, mainly in the DIY sector.
Coatings and raw materials companies are having to reconsider their sustainability policies in the light of circular economy initiatives.
“The circular economy will change things,” said Dirk Voeste, vice president, sustainable strategy, at BASF, a pace setter in sustainability initiatives in the coatings sector because of its position as both a coatings and raw materials producer.
“We’re now thinking about how we deal with closed loop systems in the context of sustainability,” he continued. “We need to start to increase the performance of our products in terms of durability because that helps to make better use of resources. We have to think about designing products to ensure that they are recyclable, which will be a process beginning at the R&D stage.”
He was speaking during an interview with Coatings World after giving a presentation on the company’s sustainability strategy at a conference at Windsor, England, in November organized by Sustainable Brands London.
BASF, which in addition to producing coatings also makes resins, pigments and other coatings ingredients, emphasizes the importance of helping to encourage sustainability along the length of value chains.
“We look at value chains in terms of their sustainability requirements and how much sustainability initiative can benefit customers along the chains, not just with products but with processes,” he said.
He used as an example the company’s CathoGuard process for OEM coatings which, as a result of the first layer eliminating the primer and baking steps, reduces energy consumption, greenhouse gases and emissions of volatile organic compounds.
The company’s present sustainability policy has been based on the assessment of around 60,000 products and the staging of 180 workshops of employees and, in some cases, customer representatives.
Its key objective is to increase the proportion of total sales provided by what it calls “accelerators” or those contributing substantially to sustainability in value chains. Its target for 2020 is a 28-percent share of total sales from accelerators against a current 23 percent worth around €15 billion ( $16 billion).
“Each of our strategic business units, including coatings, now has an individual accelerator target,” said Voeste.
Circular economy schemes can help companies achieve their sustainability objectives in areas like energy consumption.
“Remanufacturing of coatings can save a lot of energy,” Bowtell said. “Around 75 percent of the carbon footprint in the making of paints comes from the production of energy intensive raw materials like titanium dioxide.”
BCF’s PaintCare campaign, which has the same brand name as a paint recycling scheme in North America, has put forward 15 proposals for action by the paint and waste industry and central and local government in the UK. The aim is to use a large proportion of the 50 million liters or 71,500 metric tons of leftover decorative paint each year to establish a new remanufacturing sector.
“Only 2 percent of the leftover paint is reused or remanufactured,” said Bowtell. “Yet it is technically feasible to turn around 40 percent of this waste back into new paint.”
Currently 29 percent of leftover paint is landfilled, 19 percent incinerated with energy recovery and 48 percent without and 2 percent poured down the drain.
A major obstacle previously to the marketing of remanufactured paint has been the lack of quality standards. So PaintCare is urging the paint industry to introduce a remanufacturing quality protocol. It also wants the paint and waste industries to join together with academia to find solutions for leftovers which cannot be remanufactured into new paint by using them as raw materials for concrete and other products.
PaintCare is calling on local authorities and the waste industry to stop landfilling liquid paint by ensuring that their waste recycling centres accept liquid paint. Central government is being exhorted by the campaign to specify in 5 percent of government paint contracts the use of a “significant” proportion of remanufactured content.
“The process for remanufacturing paint is labor intensive,” Bowtell explained. “So in comparison to production processes for making normal paint it is expensive, which could be an obstacle to finding markets for reused paints. That is why it is important that industry, government, retailers and other stakeholders have to come together to make the project a success.”
Despite the relatively high production costs, industry is investing in waste paint solutions. One of the country’s leading waste companies has recently opened a paint remanufacturing pilot plant. The circular economy is not only giving a new meaning to sustainability but demonstrating in the coatings sector how it can add value to products previously regarded as waste.