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Wednesday, 03 June 2020

Should coatings be formulated to ensure that their ingredients can be recycled safely?

Thursday, 17 April 2014 | Posted by: Tony Mash, TMA Consulting Inc.

What happens to a coating or a coated product when its prime application has been completed and it must be disposed of? Is that the end of the line? We talk about ‘cradle to grave’, but can the ‘grave’ in the form of incineration and landfill be avoided? Can coatings be formulated to enhance the recyclability of the substrates that they decorate or protect? In order to be good managers of the world’s resources, a positive response to these questions HAS to be found.

Ellen Macarthur is best known as a solo long-distance yachtswoman who gained international renown by breaking the world record for the fastest solo circumnavigation of the globe in 2005. She is also a truly inspiring environmental leader who, on retirement from sailing, launched the Ellen MacArthur Foundation; a charity focusing on accelerating the transition to a regenerative circular economy. The Foundation works in three areas:

  • Education - inspiring a generation to re-think the future
  • Business - catalysing business innovation
  • Insight - the opportunity for a re-design revolution

The starting point for me in understanding her prime message is the circular economy model which is described in the web address below:

http://www.ellenmacarthurfoundation.org/circular-economy/circular-economy/interactive-system-diagram

The model calls for life cycles of all products to be designed in ways that ensure that all nutrients that are used in product manufacture and use are not lost on disposal but are recycled over and over again. Indeed, the key technical challenge for the Coatings Industry should be to minimise or even eradicate the need for incineration and landfill. Given that we are consuming materials and resources at a faster rate than the world can provide, isn’t this what Society needs?

The foundation identifies two viable recycle routes, one uses biological means to capture and reuse nutrients and the second draws on technical processes to achieve the same result.

We have talked in this blog in the past about the exciting developments that are taking place upstream to utilise sources of food, agricultural waste and even carbon dioxide to generate the chemical building blocks that eventually go into coatings formulations. This reflects one aspect of the biological recycle route that Ellen MacArthur refers to.

Whenever we see companies or coatings trade associations organising paint recovery and recycle systems, as in the USA, Canada, UK and Holland, they are exemplifying one aspect of the technical recycle route.

Designing coatings so that they do not impede the sustainable recycling of the substrates they protect is a challenge which I do not believe has been fully grasped. Making sure that coatings do not emit toxic compounds during their life time or during substrate recycling or disposal is a key challenge which has yet to be fully investigated.

I addressed this issue in the USA recently and received a response from the Vitro Minerals Company reminding me that the small beads, used in many decorative formulations are made from a material that has a great track record of being recycled over and over again, namely....glass. Is there any reason why more recyclable materials could not be incorporated in new coatings formulations?

I know this is not an easy topic to address but companies like Vitro Minerals may have a handle on part of the answer.

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