Italy protests against clampdown on solvent-based paints

A business group is protesting against a European Commission proposal to regulate the solvent content of paints to limit emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOC).

The Commission’s proposed limits on the VOC content of decorative paints would result in an annual reduction of 280 kilotonnes of VOC emissions, at a cost of €157 million a year, equivalent to €563 per tonne of VOC. The Commission estimates the abatement would bring health-related benefits worth €582 million a year.

But Italian chemical group Unionchimica says the draft proposal, which would come into force in 2010, would have a “disproportionately negative impact” on small and medium-sized business producing varnishes, paints and solvents. The group estimates the directive would cost businesses €300 million, because new stainless-steel equipment would be needed to switch from solvent-based to water-based production, along with reformulation and retraining costs.

Given their size and capabilities, SMEs will struggle to switch to new technologies required to comply with the proposed regulation, compared with multinational companies, says Unionchimica, warning that the smallest firms will not be able to make the transition.

However, the Commission argues that “there should be no major effects for the paint industry”, because the 1-1.5% rise in paint prices needed to meet compliance costs is not likely to deter paint customers.

Unionchimica says it is not wholly opposed to the directive, but wants a substantial revision for solvent content limits that it claims are “unrealistic and punitive for SMEs”. But the Commission says the industry has already coped with a major shift from solvent-borne to water-borne products, and that the new directive would simply build on that process. The proposal will be passed to the European Parliament and Council for scrutiny.

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie