Iowa Waste Reduction Center has national impact

The Iowa Waste Reduction Center (IWRC) began 25 years ago; it's now an initiative of UNI's Business and Community Services. The center has since grown from a small department with one employee, to a large organization with around 20 employees.

Virtual Paint
Jeremiah Treloar, program manager of licensed products at the IWRC, demonstrates the award-winning VirtualPaint system.

The IWRC aims to support Iowa businesses by ensuring they are complying with regulations such as the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, and Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. As part of this commitment to help reduce wastes, the IWRC developed the Spray Technique Analysis and Research (STAR) painter-training program, which has become one of its top initiatives.

The center initially developed the STAR program for community college and tech school collision repair programs in the early 1990s. In 2003, the Spray Technique Analysis and Research for Defense (STAR4D) program was created to provide effective painter training to the U.S. Armed Forces.

IWRC also conducted research on spray finishing facilities. It was discovered that some facilities were producing less waste than others. It was this research that led to the development of the STAR training program and award-winning VirtualPaint training system. The programs aim to help painters become more efficient in their process by providing an opportunity to apply virtual paint on a virtual surface, so they can see where the paint sprays based on real-world variables.

"We started to do a little bit of research into spray finishing to say, 'Can we help small businesses in the state reduce wastes, save money and be more efficient spraying paint?'" said Jeremiah Treloar, program manager of licensed products at the IWRC. "We did several research projects at that time, worked with companies in the state of Iowa and we realized that better training, knowledge and skills of painters can save money."

The program proved to be a success. Research showed a dramatic increase in painting efficiency, with painters increasing their efficiency from around 20 percent to as much as 78 percent. In six years, the IWRC has sold more than 100 VirtualPaint training systems to notable customers such as vehicle manufacturers Ford and Toyota.

"It really comes down to, there's somebody who's holding a spray gun, who's spraying, and the result of what they do can be a lot of waste, poor product, rework, and there's a lot of costs associated with that," said Treloar. "That's where we come in."

While the STAR program has become a large focus for the IWRC, providing environmental assistance to Iowa small businesses is still its primary focus. In addition, the IWRC provides the opportunity for UNI students to get first-hand experience working with staff and customers.

"The IWRC has really been built on UNI students because a lot of us started here," said Treloar. "It's important to have students to be able to help out. It's critical to what we're doing."

For more information about the IWRC, STAR and the award-winning VirtualPaint, visit www.iowaenviroassist.org/.

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