A new report released by the Container Owners Association (COA) shows a drop in the use of waterborne coatings in the container industry, with production of containers using waterborne paint amounting to just 20,000TEU in 2013, compared to 30,000TEU in 2012.

Most of the production of waterborne paint coated containers in 2013 took place at the CIMC (China International Marine Containers) factory in Dalian, China, using Valspar waterborne paint. However, due to a reduced demand for containers, the factory suspended production in the middle of the year and (at the time of publication) has not yet restarted.

Production using waterborne paint is present in other factories such as Singamas Qidong, Singamas HPCL and CXIC HXIC but only for limited volumes of containers. A number of other factories have either incorporated modifications to their production lines to accommodate the use of waterborne paint, or are new and therefore have production lines capable of accommodating the use of waterborne paint, but these are not in the majority.

Maersk Container Industry (MCI) has consistently been an industry leader in environmental matters and at the end of 2013 took the decision to move a significant volume of dry container production in their Dong guan factory to Valspar waterborne paint in 2014.

“It has been believed for a number of years that no major move to waterborne paint will take place until the Chinese government introduces regulations to cut back emissions” explains Nigel Stribley, COA representative for Floors and Paints and Director of Blue Sky Intermodal. “Only this will force container factories and container owners to go waterborne.”

While this has not yet occurred, the government has instigated a five year plan running from 2013 to 2017 for each province to set targets for the reduction of VOC (volatile organic compounds) discharges. These targets require reductions of 25-30% in Beijing, Tianjin and Hebei province, 20% in Shanghai and 15% in Guangzhou.

Container manufacturers report that local government in South China is already applying strong pressure for the factories to deliver on these targets. In 2009 the Waterborne China Platform was set up in South China by a number of material suppliers, paint suppliers, paint equipment suppliers and a local Chinese research institute. This will act as a catalyst between the government and all companies involved in the coating industry to promote a reduction in VOCs and to serve as a source of information to all participants in the industry that are faced with this dilemma of how to switch to waterborne paint. This organisation is actively encouraging factories to work towards achieving these targets

From the buyer’s perspective, waterborne paint is more expensive than solvent based and the risk of having warranty problems during the transfer period is greater. Apparently this is sufficient to deter the switch of volume production into waterborne paint, and there is no real pressure from container manufacturers to switch as they have similar concerns.

“Steady progress has been made in the last year,” adds Nigel Stribley. “But it is still not possible to tell whether the industry will switch to water based paint of its own accord, or whether it will be driven to the change gradually over the next few years by increasing restrictions on the emissions of VOCs.”