Is Paint Bad For The Environment?
It most certainly is. Believe it or not, you can buy eco-friendly (or at least friendlier) paint. Paint is one of those things that is just bad for the environment and has been for over a hundred years. All you have to do is take the lid off and smell the vapour that rises from a can of paint and you can tell it is toxic to anything living, when that stuff goes to landfill or ends up in the water table it’s going to be trouble. Burning it is just as bad really as it will release toxic fumes.
Within the average can of normal paint you can expect to find a variety of unpleasant chemicals that are there to do all the things you expect of modern paint- to flow well to harden quickly, to have a colour pigmentation that is consistent and will last a long time, stay stuck to the walls and surfaces and to inhibit mould. Which is just what we think we want but there are unfortunate harmful aspects to all these chemicals that the manufacturers would prefer to keep to themselves, as they are known now to contribute to respiratory illness, allergic reactions, headaches, nausea and even cancer in extreme cases of prolonged exposure.
So paint is one of those products that are well overdue for redesign with human health and the minimizing of harm to the environment at the top of the list of requirements.
One of the most hazardous of the chemicals in paint are solvents called Volatile Organic Compounds, or VOCs. These solvents help to keep all the compounds in paint blended together and they pour into the air as soon as you open the can, most noticeably with oil based gloss paint but present also in emulsions. These are definitely toxic and will continue to be emitted from the paint even when it is dry for a long time after it has been applied. The average 1 litre can of emulsion will contain between 250 and 500 grams of VOC, which many people consider to be an excessive amount. The Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs have acknowledged this and now implement the Paint Products Directive.
If you want to use greener more eco and health conscious paint in your house you will need to look for low VOC levels and if you keep searching you can even find paint products that are guaranteed VOC free along with vinyl, plasticizer and biocides as well; If you are unsure look for the environmental certification labels on the cans.
The least toxic paint products available are called casein paints and they are based on non-toxic pigments, lime and milk protein, they are not as long lasting and there is a much smaller range of colour options. They are quite old fashioned compared to modern paints and are sold in powdered form to be mixed with water but hopefully there will be more and more eco friendly paint products on the market in wider colour ranges and textures at comparable prices to the conventional products.
Eco friendly paints will have virtually no smell when you open the can, as there will be no volatile or toxic chemicals present. Conventional paint will smell strongly of solvent and other chemicals and produce a very noticeable odour and the gasses that are released are greenhouse gasses, which are harmful to the environment, as they are known to be contributing to global warming and climate change.