Going Green

As we move boldly into the new century, the one word that symbolizes these times is green. In this case, green does not mean money or a paint color. Rather, green means clean. In all walks of life we are being asked to be more environmentally responsible, to reduce our carbon footprint and do our part to make the world a cleaner place. Waterborne paint processes virtually eliminate VOCs. Photo by Akzo Nobel Car Refinishes (Sikkens).

The automotive industry certainly has not been left out of this discussion. In fact, collision repair shops can potentially be a major source of pollutants and waste. What can you do to make your shop greener? The short answer is, plenty.

If we take a look at the operations of a body shop, we can identify three areas in which efforts can be made to lessen the negative environmental impact. These are body shop materials and equipment, body shop waste and the office. Of the three, body shop materials can have the biggest negative impact, but also the greatest potential for environmental improvement.

Body Shop Materials and Equipment

Body shop materials include the basics of your business; namely, paint and solvents. And as we all know, these products can harm both you and the environment. The culprits in paint are those nasty Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) that can cause respiratory problems and also contribute to smog formation. You know smog, that band of brown haze along the horizon.

The chemical solvents that are used to reduce paints and clean up afterwards are just as bad. VOCs are why you wear a mask in the paint booth. Many of you might know an old timer who is suffering from emphysema, or other breathing disorder, as the result of breathing paint fumes with an inferior mask, or no mask at all.

If you want to make your shop green and really make an impact as far as reducing the amount of pollutants the shop generates, get rid of the solvent-based paint. The time has come to start using waterborne paint. It has been used by the OEMs in Europe for more than 15 years and the law now requires its use in Canada and the state of California.

This type of paint is the practical, environmentally friendly alternative to what you are using today. Because water is the main ingredient, the amount of VOCs is approximately 80 percent less than solvent-based paint. The reason is simple. Waterborne paint dries through the evaporation of water, not solvent.

If you own a large shop in a metropolitan area, you’ll make a significant impact on the local air quality by making this switch. In addition, the air in your shop will be much cleaner, making it healthier for everyone. Cleanup is easier, too. Soap and water can handle most of these chores.

You’re probably asking yourself what other changes are necessary in your shop to use waterborne paints. Well, it’s not as dramatic as you might think. You can still use your HVLP spray guns and your existing paint booth, although it is recommended that the air flow be increased. The most important aspect of switching to waterborne paint is properly training all your workers. But don’t worry, all the major paint suppliers have training programs in place and are more than willing to help you in the transition.

Rest assured that the quality of your work will not suffer. Paint manufacturers maintain that color matching, metallic control and blending characteristics meet or exceed those standards set by solvent-based paints. In addition, pigment settling is not a major concern with waterborne paints, eliminating the need for expensive mixing equipment.

Many body shops that have converted to waterborne paint find that they are getting better coverage with this type of paint compared to solvent-based products. Also, the amount of waste generated is noticeably less. If you’re using less paint and that paint has a lower VOC content, it should be obvious that what you are emitting into the atmosphere is dramatically less.

There are some other advantages to waterborne paint that might not be apparent initially. First of all, it’s almost odorless. Secondly, waterborne paint is pre-mixed. That means that it’s ready to use straight from the can. If it has to be reduced, you use distilled water. Finally, it’s safer as this type of paint is nonflammable, reducing the risk of fire (that can mean lower insurance rates). For more information on making the transition to waterborne paint, see the January/February 2009 issue of Mopar Magazine.

Body Shop Waste

There are two types of waste in your body shop. The first is pretty obvious and that is the material that is leftover from the painting and repair processes. The second type of waste is all the unusable parts that you remove from the damaged vehicles. The proper disposal of both is necessary in order to be a green body shop. Let’s take a look at the second type of waste first.

When a damaged car, minivan or truck comes to your shop, all of the damaged parts and components must be repaired or removed. Those that are removed can be recycled through a number of different outlets. Items such as steel, tires, and batteries are commonly recycled items for which there exists a strong market. But don’t forget other things like oil, coolant and refrigerant. In many cases, improper disposal of some of these items might be illegal, too. Check with the local authorities and the EPA.

Now let’s look at that first group of waste products. This is waste from the paint and repair operations in your shop. If you’re still using solvent-based paint products, this is a major problem, but even waterborne paint has byproducts that must be properly disposed.

One of the best sources of information on body shop waste is www.ccar-greenlink.org. According to the information on their Web site, “CCAR-GreenLink,® a service of the Coordinating Committee for Automotive Repair, is a multi-media national environmental information center offering quick access to important information on a variety of environmental issues body shop professionals encounter in their daily work.” In a nutshell, this organization, primarily through their Web site, provides just about all the environmental information, from their Paint Waste Fact Sheet to steel recycling, that you will need to properly and efficiently run your body repair business in compliance with the law.”

The information on this Web site is presented in a clear, easy-to-read format. For example, there is a section which contains fact sheets on a number of different items. Check out the Paint Waste Fact Sheet. This fact sheet begins with an explanation of the categories which define the size of the waste generator, based on the amount of waste produced per month. Then the sheet thoroughly explains the methods required to identify, handle and store. Also, information is provided to help you determine if your paint waste is classified as hazardous (remember, it’s your responsibility to make that determination).