I can still recall the smell of solvent-based gloss paint as it dried after application at home. Quite a nice odour really! It reminded me of the smell of tar macadam that had just been laid on the road outside my house. My mother once told me that the smell was ‘healthy’; hard to believe these days I know, but different generations bring different ways of looking at issues, and the use of solvent-based paints is one of them.

Today, across North America and Europe, most decorative paints are water-borne. Legislation has been laid down to limit VOCs in the atmosphere, and the coatings industry has met the challenge with new formulations. Still, solvent-based coatings linger on, particularly in industrial paint applications where the protective qualities of paints are absolutely critical, short curing times cannot be avoided and coatings are applied generally by expert applicators in controlled environments rather than by consumers in the home.

Back in March this year, this blog addressed the thorny issue of paint recycling and highlighted the services of the American Coatings’ Association’s Paint Care® programme in some States of the Union, and similar processes organised through the Canadian Paint and Coatings Association to arrange for the recycling of waste paints. Companies across North America have geared themselves up to test, blend, re-stabilize, filter and repackage waterborne paints ready for resale for interior and exterior applications at discount prices compared with virgin products.

However, what happens to solvent-based paints? Come to think of it, what happens to the solvents that are used in paint clean-up processes? Back in March, I reported that solvent-based paints can be sent off for fuel blending. Surely there must be a better solution out there that involves recycling and reuse?

Recycling is never easy, particularly where there are many ingredients that are difficult to separate in a waste stream. The only answer I have heard that makes sense to me is what is called closed-loop operations. This is where an organisation takes control not only of the manufacture and use of a product, but also its safe recovery and recycling to minimise emissions and wastage. But how can this concept be applied in the coatings industry?

Many years ago, I used to visit car assembly plants in the United States on a regular basis, and was impressed by the way paint companies took total responsibility for the painting of car bodies. As a car chassis entered a paint booth in a car assembly plant, it would become the property of the paint company and would only be purchased back by the automotive manufacturer as it left the booth, providing it had an A1 surface finish. Automotive companies accepted that they did not have the expertise to formulate, handle, apply and cure paints, nor were they expert enough to deal with waste materials and complete chemical waste disposal report forms that legislators demanded, such as SARA Title III. They let outside experts deal with all of these issues and paid for the service. This proved to be a successful way forward, both economically and environmentally for the automotive manufacturers involved.

This kind of operation became known as Chemical Management Services or CMS and has been applied in many industries that use but are not necessarily experts in the handling of chemicals. CMS meets the need for the application and closed-loop recycling of chemicals by those who know what they are doing. A company has come forward with a new business model that offers to manage the recycling of solvents in clean-up fluids and waste paint, thereby providing significant environmental and economic value to applicators and paint manufacturers alike.

CleanPlanet Chemical (www.cleanplanetchemical.com) has changed the paradigm and applied the CMS model to solvent recycling in North America. The company has developed state-of-the-art solvent recovery machines that are supplied to their business partners free of charge. CleanPlanet Chemical also does not charge for machine installation, maintenance, supplies or parts. Instead, the company becomes its partner’s solvent supplier and charges solely for the chemicals that are recovered. The application of new technology to the design of the equipment, which can recover both low and high boilers, together with the company’s commitment to servicing of the equipment via local representatives across North America, ensures that the quality of the recycled solvents, in most cases, is as good if not better than virgin solvent products.

To my knowledge, this business model has never been applied to clean-up solvents and waste paint recycling before. It offers paint applicators and manufacturers alike access to equipment, technology and support that ensures that the recovery and reuse of paint solvents are performed in an economic and efficient way under the guidance of an expert third-party. The need to incinerate solvents, which wastes a valuable resource, is significantly reduced. In fact by doing so, I am told that the average customer will lower its solvent and waste disposal costs by 30-50%, while reducing waste generation by 80%+. Also, every gallon recovered reduces greenhouse gas emissions by up to 20 lb (when compared to incineration or fuel blending) and represents one less gallon of hazardous material being transported through our cities. If you can recover solvents and save significant money in the process, it just seems like the sensible thing to do. CleanPlanet has made that possible.

 This very positive development does raise a further question, however. What should we do with the paint sludge that is left after the solvents have been recovered? Can that sludge be recovered as well? The answer there may well depend on the choice of ingredients in solvent-based paint formulations. Maybe there is another paradigm shift waiting just around the corner?