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Painting the town red

Start-up business Newlife Paints is one of those companies with a fantastic yet obvious idea, which makes you wonder why it has not been done before. As the first paint recycler in the UK, and possibly Europe, Newlife is tapping into a waste stream that has so far had very limited recycling opportunities. At a time when councils are desperate to divert waste from landfill, the future seems bright. The judges of this year’s National Recycling Awards obviously thought so too, awarding Newlife Paints the award for Best Recycled Product.

“An estimated 40 to 50 million litres of paint is discarded each year, most of which ends up in landfill,” Newlife sales and marketing director Graham Griffith says. “At the moment we’re reprocessing 1,000 litres a week. The ultimate aim is to control a significant proportion of the waste paint stream.”

As a business, Newlife, based in Ford, West Sussex, has been built on the knowledge of founder and managing director Keith Harrison, who came up with the idea when he was cleaning out his garage three years ago. Finding 18 half-empty tins of waste paint, the chartered chemist decided to see whether the paint could be brought back to life as new product.

After developing different methods to see if the paint could be mixed, Harrison found he could, in fact, treat the material to produce good-as-new recycled paint. When Harrison’s then boss turned down his recycling idea, he decided to go it alone and set up Newlife in 2008.But because it is such an innovative product, the challenge now is to encourage consumers to use it.

Griffith says: “It’s been quite difficult to start to develop a market for a product that is so new. Trying to get people interested in buying recycled paint is a struggle. We have found that people from the waste industry are very interested in the product but people buying it are not quite the same.

“One of the market sectors we have been looking at closely is the local authority sector, where we might be able to offer a closed loop system by recycling the paint that is collected by councils and then giving it back to them to use in their own offices and to the services they have to provide.”

“It’s been difficult to develop a market for a product that is so new. Trying to get people interested in buying recycled paint is a struggle”

Newlife produces new paint in 23 colours, in matt, egg shell and vinyl silk. Incredibly, the company was initially not going to recycle white or magnolia paint but, after realising that the two colours make up 30% of the waste stream, it changed tack. According to Griffith, the rest of the waste stream is split relatively evenly across the colour spectrum.

“The paint we offer is a reflection of what people buy,” he explains. “Our colour range has developed in the past few years through knowing what sort of colours make up the waste stream.”

The recycling process starts by sorting paint by colour and then whether it is matt or silk. To create a particular shade, a 200-litre drum is part-filled with what is broadly the same colour and then mixed with other colours. The next stage is to treat the paint for bacteria or fungal infections using biocides. The paint is then mixed with an industrial blender to ensure it is homogenous and it is tested to ensure it is alkaline. Stabilisers and additives to control odour are included before the liquid is sieved and pumped into paint pots.

The process is so unique that the Environment Agency (EA) had little information on whether Newlife could legally recycle paint. Following extensive conversations, the EA produced LRW340 regulations, with a huge amount of written input from Harrison himself. The regulations assert that the recycling of paint is a low-risk activity but limits Newlife to recycling five tonnes (3,500 litres) of paint a week on each individual site.

Despite Griffith’s concern over the end market for his paint, he reveals that the company is in final negotiating stages with DIY retailer B&Q to sell the recycled paint in its stores.

Newlife also has agreements with three distributors across the UK that use or sell on the paint through various contacts. The company recycles the paint to order, a minimum order being one pallet. Even leading waste management companies have been in contact with Newlife to find out whether it wants to take their waste paint.

With such a huge waste stream and enthusiasm from the waste industry about the process, Newlife now has to pick up its pace. It is having to stockpile 20 tonnes of paint at its two sites in West Sussex and Southampton because it is collecting paint faster than it can reprocess it. Currently, it collects paint from four of Hampshire County Council’s household waste recycling centres (HWRCs), and the council hopes to roll this out across 26 more.

Griffith says: “Each week we take 1,400 litres of paint from Hampshire but we can reprocess only 1,000 litres a week. So we are looking at how we’re going to gear up the pace.”

He says the company’s sights are set further afield: “We have embryonic plans to operate in Germany. Eventually, we will have our own site there. But first we are going to export the paint and when we believe that there is a market out there, we will build a recycling plant.”

According to Newlife, the law in Europe means that waste paint must be incinerated rather than landfilled, and it is hugely expensive at £1,200 a tonne to incinerate in Europe compared with £70 a tonne to landfill in the UK. So there are exciting future plans to expand into Europe where local authorities would be more than keen to avoid incineration costs. According to Griffith, for every tin of paint it recycles, it diverts three tins of waste from landfill, which would provide huge savings wherever it operated.

“We know how we are going to scale up,” he says. “We need a relatively small amount of investment to buy more equipment and increase our capacity level. Going forward, we’re planning on opening a factory site in the Midlands.”

And with an investor already secured, it seems there is no stopping the company which looks set to paint the town red.

SUSTAINABILITY AT CROWN PAINTS

Crown Paints recently published its 2009 Sustainability Report, detailing its achievements and innovations in progress, including:

  • Successfully implementing its Can-back scheme, enabling customers to return used paint containers for reuse or recycling into street furniture and new paint containers. During 2010, containers using up to 80% of this recycled material will be on the market
  • Working with raw materials suppliers to reduce the amount of packaging used
  • Looking at ways its paints can help consumers to achieve energy savings, with products such as heat-reflective paint that reflects heat back into rooms rather than allowing it to escape through brickwork
  • Looking to launch an earthbalance range of ‘environmentally aware’ products which “reduces the impact of some of the more carbon-intensive raw materials”
  • Reducing water and energy use during paint production
  • Reducing packaging waste by 15% against 2007 levels by the end of 2012, having pledged to do so with WRAP
  • Working with Defra and the British Coatings Federation to tackle the issue of waste spaint from consumers

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