By: Lauren Formosa, WMEAC Intern
Kent City, MI– An unassuming white warehouse sits surrounded by fields and trees in the small town of Kent City. The long rectangular building doesn’t give much away and it would be easy for someone to pass by without much thought.
However, this building is home to Innovakote, and massive innovations in the powder coating industry are occurring daily inside its walls.
Run by co-founders Dwayne Behrens and Brian Spicer, Innovakote’s mission is to eliminate waste produced from the powder coating supply chain. At the warehouse, thousands of pounds of collected powder coating waste can be turned into recycled product daily, cutting down on industrial landfill waste and aiding in efforts for companies to move to zero-waste production.
“We are a sustainability company that offers powder,” says Spicer. “We offer people the choice to avert sending their overspray to the landfill. That’s a cost avoidance, that’s landfill avoidance and a sustainability push.”
Powder coating is everywhere, and chances are you interact with it every day in one way or another. In basic terms, powder coating is paint applied in a powdered form before being cured. Its uses can range from household appliances to office furniture and even automobile parts.
Besides the ability to be applied evenly and smoothly, powder coating also has the advantage of containing no solvents that release volatile organic compounds (VOCs) into the atmosphere in comparison to liquid paint. Using powder paint then allows companies to comply with local and national environmental regulations more economically.
“There’s a certain percentage of powder coating that blows past the part, and that stuff just goes into a landfill if somebody isn’t going to recycle it. During the manufacturing and the application process, there’s about 52 percent that goes to waste,” says Behrens.
According to Spicer, two billion pounds of powder coating is sent to landfills across the globe each year. Although it is inherently less harmful for the environment, companies operating within the growing powder coating industry are starting to question how to best manage the collected waste.
Innovakote’s solution to this question is to take the waste product and turn it into new powder paint for companies to use again and again. Partners send their collected powder coating waste to Innovakote, who then clean and sort the overspray coating and formulate into recycled content that creates new powder coating.
“When we take that material, we categorize it, we segregate it and we formulate how to take the mixed material and make it into a consistent finish that the customer wants in a repeatable fashion,” says Spicer. “When that same dust that falls short gets collected and sent back to us, we remanufacture so it can get sprayed again on the same line and keep the whole circle going.”
The main idea of this process is to continually use the inherent properties of the collected waste and extend the life of the once already purchased powder.
Not only does Innovakote’s work cut down the amount of powder coating waste that would have ended up in a landfill, but it also allows their partners to get back that percentage of product that would have otherwise been unsalvageable. As Behrens explains, companies who use powder coating made with recycled content can cut that material cost in half compared to buying new product.
“Everything’s easy to landfill, but the truth is if you can get value out of it, that changes the equation,” says Behrens. “The main goal here is the recovery of those goods and being able to get everything that you paid for remanufactured and brought back to you.”
The industry does not only reap economic benefits from turning to recycled powder coating. West Michigan-based companies in particular who work with Innovakote, can benefit from a significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions that come from making new powder coatings. In addition, these companies also enjoy the social benefit of marketing their products as being made with recycled materials, something that has become increasingly sought after in recent years.
Creating powder coating from recycled content is not a new concept for the global industry, according to Spicer, but Innovakote’s process is looking to become a major game-changer for American manufacturers.
“We’re the first company in North America that has been able to take similar processes that other recyclers are doing and figure out how to make that into a marketable solution that U.S. manufacturers will buy,” says Spicer, “so for that reason I say yes, absolutely, we are going to make a huge impact on the United States powder coating market.”
While powder coating may not be the first thing that comes to mind as a major issue currently facing industrial waste, the leaps Innovakote is making to redefine this particular area shows that recycling at this scale can both be economically and environmentally beneficial. Adopting trickle-down sustainable practices can create benefits for producers, consumers, and the environment in more ways than previously thought.