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Recycling Technology Brings Circular Economy to the Paint Industry

paintNew recycling technology will allow paint to be recycled cost effectively and on a large scale, according to UK design company Seymourpowell, working with Dulux paint-brand owner AkzoNobel and Newlife Paints to create this technology.

Seymourpowell says more than 400 million liters or paint is sold in the UK each year and 13 percent of that is unused. The new recycling technology mechanizes the process of decanting unused paint from tins, helping save resources and reducing toxic waste.

To develop the process, AkzoNobel teamed up with paint chemist Keith Harrison, who re-engineers unused paint back into a good quality recycled paint product. Seymourpowell’s task was to create the machinery and technology to overcome the technical and commercial challenges of scaling up Harrison’s recycling process and bringing it to the mainstream.

“One of the major technical problems with recycling paint is that it’s very difficult to decant from tins,” explained Chris Sherwin, sustainability consultant at Seymourpowell. “The process is labor-intensive and expensive because it all has to be done by hand. Our first challenge was to discover the very best way of harvesting all of the unused paint in the most cost-effective way.”

So Seymourpowell experimented with different technologies and processes for extracting the unused paint from tins. They tried blowing it out with high-pressure air jets, using vibrations to shake it out, crushing and squeezing the tins, and using a huge “worm-screw” to crush tins and drain paint at the same time.

None of these methods really worked. Eventually the company discovered an industrial vacuum cleaner that could suck the paint out of the tin quickly and efficiently.

The team developed and adapted the suction technology to make it more suitable for paint recycling and created a large prototype to extract unused paint on an industrial scale. The concept was then successfully trialed with waste management company Veolia, which plans to recycle paint commercially.

The trial showed that Seymourpowell’s concept allows paint to be recycled four times faster and at one-seventh of the cost of the previous methods. The technology also leaves tins clean enough to be recycled straight away, is cost-effective to scale up and is easy and environmentally safe to clean, the company says.

AkzoNobel, an early customer, says the recycling technology “is helping turn our circular economy strategy into a reality.”

Seymourpowell says it will continue to work with AkzoNobel and Newlife Paints to develop the technology and plans to release further details of progress later this year.

In the US, about 10 states working with the paint industry have adopted product stewardship initiatives that make it easier for painting contractors, other businesses and resident to recycle unused and leftover paint. These programs include networks of drop-off sites that take back old paint. Most are paint retailers that accept paint during their regular business hours.

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