Victor Leal
Expert Contributor

The Future of the Raw Materials Sector and Painting is Green

By Víctor Leal | Fri, 09/04/2020 - 13:30

Today more than ever, companies must consider adopting and, above all, embracing sustainable development, since this is a form of production that boosts economic progress without upsetting the environmental balance, so that natural resources are not put at risk. 

One of the principles of sustainability is to meet the needs of the present without compromising the opportunities for future generations. That is, to satisfy the needs without altering the economy, care for the environment and social welfare, three aspects that are fundamental in a scenario as complicated as the one faced by the current generation as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The healthcare contingency has posed major challenges on a global scale; obviously, companies in the paint and coatings sector have not been exempt from this situation.

Paints and coatings are designed not only to beautify and decorate, but to protect an asset, allowing its durability to be increased over time. Therefore, the need to repair or restore it is less costly as it needs less maintenance because it breaks down or decays less often.

Companies have begun to realize that sustainability pays. The scenario we are experiencing, although challenging, may be ideal for businesses to implement a sustainability plan that will allow them to save on electricity consumption – through the installation of solar panels, for example – or by implementing production systems and processes that will reduce the demand for water for every liter of paint produced. 

The industry has always been at the forefront and sustainability is no exception. 

Important organizations such as the Brazilian Association of Paint Manufacturers (Abrafati), which is a member of the Latin American Federation of Associations of Paint and Ink Technicians and Manufacturers (LATINPIN), which I proudly chair together with the National Association of Paint and Ink Manufacturers (Anafapyt), have stated that investments over the next decade will be focused on the development of sustainable solutions, incorporating environmentally friendly technologies and manufacturing processes with less ecological impact. 

In our segment, all companies around the world are in the race to develop the "paint of the future." What this really means is that they are seeking to manufacture less-polluting products that consume fewer resources in their processes, without neglecting innovation. This is crucial, as they all aim to obtain the same results, or even better results than those they have achieved, using as few resources as possible. 

The manufacturing processes have been refined and adjusted to redistribute the energy peaks during the day and avoid overloading the network. However, renewable energies are a great ally in generating these savings.  

This is a "dollars and sense" issue, especially if we take into account that raw material prices have increased and the volatility of the national currency has made it more expensive due to several factors that have had an impact on a global scale during the year. To cite just a few examples, there is the pandemic, the trade war between the US and China, oil prices, the explosion in Lebanon, and even the US elections, all of which significantly affect the cost structure of paint manufacturers and reduce their profit margins.

However, the cooperation of raw material suppliers should also be recognized, as they have also been responsible for developing innovations and new products such as additives, which extend the life of paints stored in cans. In addition to the rheological modifiers, organic pigments extracted from natural sources, resins and defoamers with more ecological production and better performance. This is in addition to new pigment dispersion techniques and high-solids technologies aimed at reducing waste levels and production residues. 

Thus, the sector as a whole has launched revolutionary products on the market, such as those formulated to prevent fungi and bacteria, which are very useful for the construction industry. These are free of volatile organic compounds, as well as emulsions based on the low emission of contaminants for the formulation of ecological paints and high-performance coatings for wood and metal. As well, nanotechnology is used for  sealants, not to mention gyroscopic agitators in the area of inks that besides acting as automatic dispensers generate savings due to their precision and low energy consumption. Another relevant innovation in recent years is the renewable solvent manufactured from sugar cane and other ecological materials, with the objective of replacing those derived from hydrocarbons.  

In Mexico, important steps have already been taken in this regard, with the launch of innovative products such as formaldehyde-free emulsions, recommended in coastal areas with high concentrations of humidity, or even waterproofing that allows the process to be completed in just six hours, to name a few examples.

Overall, sustainability is taken very seriously in our industry. That's why there is an international care and sustainability program for the coatings industry called Coatings Care, administered under the auspices of the World Coatings Council (WCC), which aims to improve the industry's performance in a variety of areas such as the environment, safety, health, distribution and product stewardship. This plan is aligned and compatible with the Responsible Care plan for the chemical industry. However, the guidelines have been designed specifically for the industry needs of paint and ink producers.

Coatings Care's role is to help businesses take a proactive approach to community relations, emergency response and also to demonstrate this commitment to a wider audience. The voluntary program describes good management practices and offers participating companies the opportunity to follow a common and effective management approach to their health, safety and environmental programs, advising them on how to achieve high standards through self-assessment and improved performance measurement.

All this comes together with good business sense, cost reduction and maximum use of resources, without neglecting good practices and implementation. According to data from the British Coatings Federation (BCF), this scheme predicted a record number of manufacturing companies reporting zero waste in landfills in 2019, up 53 percent from 45 percent the previous year. Waste per ton of production decreased by 7.4 percent in 2018 and 9 percent of all waste was sent to landfill. Almost all of the incinerated waste is used for energy recovery, and the recycling rate is a record 64 percent compared to 17 percent in 1996, when records began.

For all this and more, sustainability pays. More than that, all the efforts and investments are made not only to optimize the operation of companies, but to seek a better future so that the next generations can paint it green.