Paint the world green with sustainable coatings
Ask Australians what we love about our country and the answer will invariably include one of the many gorgeous aspects of our environment, whether the beaches, waterways, rainforests, rolling hills, or just the iconic gum trees themselves. Protecting what we love is a widespread desire among consumers and manufacturers, and this has led to a drive to improve the sustainability and environmental impact of the coatings industry, and the rise of sustainable coatings. These “green coatings” are products developed with a focus on reducing or eliminating harmful components or processes, or making the substrate to which they are applied more sustainable. Some of the ways in which companies are decreasing their environmental footprint are through producing low VOC paint, the expansion of water-based formulations in their portfolios, increasing recycling capabilities, and creating coatings that are efficiency- and durability-boosting.
In this article we look at the problems plaguing the sustainability of coatings, the variety of ways that coatings are being made more sustainable, and how companies are making the industry greener.
VOCs and heavy metals – bad for health and the environment
Two of the biggest offenders when it comes to harmful substances in coatings are heavy metals and VOCs. A heavy metal is a dense metal or metalloid which is potentially toxic. VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds) are organic chemicals with a very low boiling point, some are natural and some are man-made. The low boiling point means that they evaporate easily into the surrounding air, emitting gasses long after the paint has dried (causing that ‘paint smell’).
- VOC emissions – In paint, the solvent usually has the highest concentration of VOCs because they need to evaporate for the paint to dry. A few of the VOCs found in paint include formaldehyde, benzene, ammonia, xylene, and toluene. Some VOCs react with oxides of nitrogen to form ozone, which is a precursor to the formation of smog. In fact, VOCs are a significant contributing factor in the creation of air pollution in urban areas. Inside buildings VOCs can contribute to ‘sick building syndrome’ as well as causing health problems and allergies.
- Toxic heavy metals – Lead is the most infamous of the heavy metals used in paint. Once used extensively as a white pigment, in Australia the recommended percentage of lead in paint was reduced from 50% to 1% in 1965 due to its toxicity, and it is now at 0.1%. Other heavy metals are still present in paint, however, including cadmium and chromium. Heavy metals are a particular concern in automotive coating but they are also present in other paint types as they speed the drying process.
Water-based paint is a low VOC paint solution
VOC regulations and consumer demands have led to a market dominated by the desire for greener coating solutions. When VOC regulations first eliminated the VOC-heavy, solvent-based paints, consumers turned to water-based sustainable low VOC paint as an alternative. Water-based coatings are naturally low in VOCs as they use water instead of a chemical solvent. As technologies have improved and companies have invested in low VOC paint, the market has only continued to grow. They can be used for substrates from metal to concrete and wood, and technologies include polyurethane, epoxy, acrylic, and more.
Durability and innovation leads to sustainable coatings
There are three critical aspects of paint which affect sustainability when it comes to paints: durability, quantity used, and formulation. The longer a paint lasts without the need for recoating, the less paint needed for optimum coverage and opacity. Add to this the use of sustainable component ingredients and the result is more environmentally-friendly, greener product. By focusing on improving the durability of their coatings and the sustainability of the processes involved in their production, paint and coatings companies are reducing fuel usage, CO2 emissions, VOC emissions, production wastes, and overall power use.
1. Durability – the less paint you use the better
The ability to provide a flawless finish with optimal performance attributes while expending the least amount of resources is one of the goals of the coating industry. Coatings with better coverage and opacity require fewer coats, decreasing the overall environmental impact. Increasing the lifespan of a coating is another way in which companies are improving sustainability – creating formulations that last longer without chalking, fading, yellowing, peeling or otherwise failing and requiring an early recoat. Durability does not just apply to the effects of weather and time; increasing the abrasion resistance and general wear-ability of the coating will also lengthen its life.
The Sydney Harbour Bridge is a good example of coating sustainably. After the 2000 fireworks it was clear the bridge needed a recoat and an upgrade. AkzoNobel stepped up to the challenge with a high performance coating system that protects the bridge but also only produces 25% of the VOC emissions of the previous coating, and lasts longer between recoats.
2. Coatings to make substrates sustainable
Coatings may protect and beautify, but they also enhance the function of a substrate – often with positive results for the environment. Antifouling coatings are one such product. The buildup of sea life on the hulls of the world shipping fleet increases fuel usage by 40%, producing the equivalent of 70-80 million tonnes of greenhouse gases. By applying antifouling paint, biofouling is reduced or eliminated and the performance and sustainability of the world shipping fleet is dramatically improved.
This same principle applies to lightweight aerospace coatings for planes, as well as coatings for vehicles. By protecting substrates ranging from buildings and infrastructure to machinery, coatings increase the lifespan and sustainability of these valuable resources. Sustainable coatings are more than just those which use sustainable ingredients.
Paint recycling: A sustainable solution with the Paintback initiative
Australians throw away 15 million litres of unused paint every year – enough to fill six Olympic-sized swimming pools. Not to mention all those litres of paint that loiter in cupboards and sheds, saved for “just in case” and then forgotten. This paint ends up in our landfills, but there is a better solution: recycling. This is where the Paintback initiative comes in. Founded by the paint industry, Paintback is a not-for-profit organisation that takes unused paint and recycles the containers while repurposing the paint itself as either an energy source (for solvent-based) or as water for industrial purposes (for water-based). This significantly minimises the waste in our landfill and waterways.
The companies which support Paintback are responsible for 95% of the architectural and decorative paint sold in Australia. The list includes heavyweights like Dulux, PPG, Valspar, Resene, Rust-Oleum, Wattyl, and Haymes. The scheme itself is funded by a 15 cents per litre levy on paints. There are now 100 paint collection sites around the country. If your would like to recycle your paint, the Paintback website has a handy tool to find your nearest collection site as well as which paints are accepted.
Green coatings Australia – brands and products
There are a range of companies and brands in Australia that include low VOC paint options in their ranges. These include:
- Rockcote‘s non-toxic, low VOC Eco Style range
- Professional Fast Finish from Dulux
- Mythic‘s non toxic paint range includes zero VOC exterior paint
- Pure Performance from Taubmans
- Ecolour, a VOC-free paint company
If you would like to know more about the sustainable coating choices for your project, get in touch! Our experts are here to help. Simply click the “Request a Quote” button beneath this article and use the contact form to tell us about your project. In collaboration with our coating partners, we will connect you with the coating solution for your needs.