This page informs you on the general topic of measuring impact. The Aerosol Alliance team has researched the environmental impact of spray paint using Life Cycle Assessment (LCA). This allows us to scientifically measure the footprint of spray cans. Based on our study we found that:

One — 1 — spray paint can has an impact of: ~3.3 kg CO2-eq

Find out how we did this below and learn which phases of the value chain of spray cans are relevant. In the header you can find three steps that dive into more details on the 'Production', 'Use' & 'End-of-Life' of aerosol spray paint cans. Did you know that using 100 spray paint cans per month cause the same impact as drinking 16.500 cups of coffee?

  1. 01. Measuring the impact
  2. 02. Impact of spray paint cans
  3. 03. How LCA works
  4. 04. Contribution per component
  5. 05. Recycling or incineration?

01. Measuring the impact

How do we measure the environmental impact or footprint of products such as spray paint? 

By using Life Cycle Assessment (LCA), this is a proven and widely adopted scientific method, which ensures we take into account all environmental impact across the life cycle of a product. If we want to measure the impact of spray paint we first will have to look into the supply chain of spray paint. This article dives into the steps that occur during the life cycle of spray paint, which stages are relevant to take into account and demonstrates the impact of spray paint.

The life cycle phases

The phases that are relevant for every LCA of a product are: the production phase, use phase and End-of-Life (EoL) phase. In these phases you can have sub-steps of the supply chain, such as raw material extraction, transport, manufacturing, distribution, use , maintenance or repair, disposal and waste treatment (recycling, incineration and landfill). On this website you are able navigate to separate pages that allow you to find out more about each of the life cycle phases.

02. Impact of spray paint cans

The Aerosol Alliance has made a generic LCA of a spray paint can. Hereby we used Ecochain Mobius, an LCA software tool. In the future we aim to disclose a more detailed overview of our LCA model via a brief report. However, for now we don’t want to bombard you with the nitty gritty little details and just provide the numbers.

Based on our study we found that 1 aluminum spray can with white paint uses ~3.3 kg CO2-eq

OK cool now we got the numbers. This can serve as a benchmark value to compare spray paint products with one another. Thus, we know the impact of spray paint now on a basic level. Well, let's see what that actually means. We can use Ecochain's Carbon Translator to translate the amount of 3.3 kg CO2-eq into a more understandable and meaningful example.

Let's say that you use 100 spray paint cans a month. This translates into 100 * 3,3 = 330 kg CO2-eq. If we fill that in the Carbon Translator we get the following result.

So using 100 spray paint cans per month causes the same impact on climate change as drinking over 16.500 cups of coffee! Insane right? This number considers that the spray cans are eventually incinerated in a waste treatment facility. We believe this is the most common end-of-life scenario in the more technologically advanced nations.

03. How LCA works

In all the steps along the supply chain of producing and using spray paint cans different activities take place. What LCA enables is to measure the environmental impact of all the activities that occur. For example: the transport of raw materials (pigments, solvents, binders) to a paint manufacturer can be done via a lorry, a sea ship or barge tankers. These transport methods use fossil fuels (e.g. diesel and heavy fuel oil) to let the engine run and move the vehicle from A to B. Burning fuels causes emissions like CO2, NOx, SO2 and particulate matter to be released to the atmosphere. For this activity or step an environmental impact model or dataset is available in specific environmental databases. They tell us for example how much burning of a liter of diesel is contributing to the environmental impact category Global Warming Potential (GWP) which is expressed in 'kg CO2-eq'

For all phases and steps we have used generic environmental datasets to measure the impact of the production of spray paint, the can, the use of spray paint and different waste treatment scenarios. We have used the Ecoinvent 3.6 database combined with the LCA calculation method: The Environmental Footprint method version 3.0.

04. Contribution per component

In order to address the right topics and tackle the larger issues first, there's more we need to know about the contribution of specific components of spray paint. Read more about all the components of spray paint and spray cans here: Facts - Production.

The impact of one steel spray paint can is ~2.3 kg CO2-eq

The impact of one aluminium spray paint can is ~3.3 kg CO2-eq

The hotspots of spray cans

In the figures above we can see that the production of spray paint contributes 65% to 75% of the total contribution to climate change (GWP). The largest share of the impact in the production phase is related to the can itself. Thus, the raw material inputs are steel or aluminum, and the processing of these metals into a can container contributes the most to the amount of CO2. In addition, we see a large share is related to the use phase. Here we see that VOC emissions roughly contribute 25-30% to the total amount of kg CO2-eq.

The numbers that we found can be used for basic calculations. However, they are still estimates. And to improve the numbers we need to know several crucial things. For example:

  • "What kind of paint is inside our beloved tool?"
  • Which materials are the container — the spray paint can — made of and what alternatives are there to a steel or aluminum container?
  • What are the key components of spray paint and what is the impact of the ingredients that are being used?
  • We need the help of manufacturers to get better insights into the environmental impact of spray paint.

05. Recycling or incineration?

For the LCA calculations we made assumptions on the waste scenario of the spray paint can. This influences the outcome of the results of our study. The waste scenarios that we used are: recycling and incineration. Meaning that we looked at the impact of recycling a spray can versus the impact of throwing your spray can in the trash. Whereby the assumption is made it ends up at an incineration facility. We did not calculate what happens if a can ends up at landfill yet. Because the data available in the environmental databases are not specific enough in our opinion to include this option.

06. Reducing the impact of waste

How can waste related to the use of spray cans be reduced? We want to start a conversation with artists and with recycling facilities on how we can collaborate to make our scene a more sustainable one. On our End-of-Life page we dive into more details regarding the waste management of aerosol cans. In particular spray paint cans.