Toxic and dangerous. Two words that describe some of the ingredients present in modern paints. They’re bad for human health and damaging to the environment.
The ingredients that give paint its colour often contain cadmium, chromium and lead. Binders, which hold the paint together, can contain what are known as volatile organic compounds (VOCs). This is a category of elements that includes benzene and formaldehyde. These harmful ingredients are also often present in the carriers which disperse the binders within the paint.
Once the paint pot lid is lifted and the paint applied to a surface, highly toxic particles escape into the atmosphere, where they can remain a danger to health for years.
The list of problems VOCs can cause is a long and worrying one: kidney infections, headaches, asthma and cancer are just some of the diseases and afflictions thought to be caused by them. Small wonder that paint manufacturers are eager to find a non-toxic, eco-friendly paint alternative.
Legislation designed to protect the environment and human health has certainly forced manufacturers of toxic paints to cut down the VOCs present in their products. But there is still no regulation compelling paints to be totally VOC-free.
Change, therefore, is being driven by consumer demand. Stop buying toxic paint and the manufacturers will soon stop making it.
Many are already releasing non-toxic paint alternatives, which is definitely a step in the right direction. But this new wave of eco-friendly paint is best labelled ‘less toxic’ rather than ‘fully non-toxic’, because VOCs are still present in many of the paint formulas.
Is your paint toxic?
A trip down the paint aisle at your local DIY store will soon reveal a plethora of ‘non-toxic’ claims from paint manufacturers. VOC-free. Low VOC. No VOC. Green. Natural. Organic. Odourless. You’re likely to encounter all these claims and more.
All try to reassure the health and environmentally-conscious buyer, but the absence of labelling standards or strict regulations is leading to a VOC free-for-all, and consumer confusion. You might think the paint you’re buying is totally safe and non-toxic when, in fact, it contains low-levels of VOCs.
To try and cut through the confusion, eco-focused labels are being introduced to eco-friendly paint products to inform and reassure consumers that what’s in the tin has adhered to certain environmental and sustainability standards in a particular country.
In the United States there’s a green seal and Greenguard. Germany has its blue angel. Other European nations use the eco-label. In the United Kingdom, labels that indicate the level of VOCs in the paint are used. These vary from Minimal VOC content (less than 0.29%) up to Very High (more than 50%).
Whatever labelling system your sustainably-sourced paint features, it’s encouraging to see paint makers taking steps to reduce VOCs. Products with low levels often replace the petrochemical solvents traditionally used as carriers with water, minimising damaging emissions.
There is only one paint that’s guaranteed non-toxic – natural paint
If you are seeking sustainable paint that you can be sure contains zero VOCs, natural paint is the product to choose. As the name suggests, only naturally occurring elements form the ingredients – plant dyes, minerals and vegetable oil among them.
Instead of using chemicals such as benzene and formaldehyde as binders, natural paints use ingredients such as lime and milk to do the job. Natural minerals provide the colouring, chalk does the thickening and oils and fruits add the fragrance.
Some paint manufacturers are going a step further by combining these eco-friendly ingredients with modern materials like Graphene, to create super-strong and durable paint. One such example is Graphenstone, a low toxic, VOC-free paint that, amazingly, actually removes CO2 from the atmosphere.
Naturally beneficial natural paint
With ingredients such as those outlined above, it’s clear that natural paints are sustainable and will not harm those who apply the paint or live in the places where it has been used. Those who suffer allergic reactions to the chemicals in traditional paint will also be spared any ill-effects.
Natural paints like Graphenstone also don’t bubble or crack over time. It’s because eco-friendly paint is naturally porous and breathable, so moisture doesn’t get trapped behind the paint after it’s applied and can escape through it, avoiding the unsightly peeling and flaking caused by trapped moisture. What’s more, natural paints are biodegradable, and no damaging particles are released into the atmosphere during the application or afterwards.
Any watch-outs when buying natural paint?
It won’t take you long while you’re down that DIY aisle to see that natural paints carry a heftier price tag than their standard, more toxic predecessors. Currently, eco-friendly paints are being manufactured in smaller quantities, affecting their price. But as they increase in popularity, production levels will increase and the price drop as a result.
Also, natural paint colour ranges are currently limited, and drying times can be significantly longer (sometimes up to a day longer). A small price to pay, some would say, for paint that doesn’t harm the environment or cause health problems for years after application.
The future of natural paint
With so many areas of life being subject to scrutiny in terms of their affects on public health and the environment, the future of paint has to be VOC-free. And that means natural paint is destined to increase in popularity, and decrease in price as a result.
Suppliers of eco-friendly paint will continue to create their paints using materials from sustainable sources, while minimising the impact their manufacturing processes, packaging and products have on the environment.
But until all paints feature natural ingredients, it falls on the consumer to vote with their wallets and choose a guaranteed VOC-free natural paint solution to limit the damage to the world around them, as well as their own well-being.
To find out more about environmentally-friendly paints for all kinds of situations and surfaces, please visit Graphenstone UK