Eco-friendly, Low-VOC, natural and recycled paints are not only healthier for the environment, but for people as well.
According to a report launched by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), concentrations of VOCs – Volatile Organic Compounds – in indoor air can be two to five times greater than outdoors.
An estimated 60,000 tonnes of VOCs are released into the atmosphere in Australia each year, and the paint industry contributes significantly to this amount with some major paint manufacturers in the country still using tints that contain high levels of VOCs.
In addition to the VOC content of paint, the CO2 emitted during its manufacturing process negatively impacts the environmental, creating air pollution and petrochemical smog.
Between 35 and 50 per cent of the composition of traditional oil-based paints includes VOCs, as well as chemicals that can be detrimental for human health such as aliphatic and aromatic hydrocarbons (toluene, xylene), ketones (acetone, methyl ethyl ketone), alcohol (butanol, ethanol), esters (n-propyl acetate, butyl acetate) free monomers, volatile plasticisers, and fungicides such as aromatic mercury compounds.
VOCs can cause throat infections, eye and nose irritations, nausea and headaches. Some VOCs are also known to be carcinogenic and can cause kidney disorders and affect the central nervous system, especially among children.
What many people do not know is that tinted paint, even if it is labelled 'Low-VOC', often contains VOC levels that are over the GBCA’s Green Star Rating System VOC Minimisation credits (IEQ-13/11). When the paint dries, it releases these compounds, causing damage both to peoples’ health and to the environment.
Water-based acrylics still have three to seven per cent solvent content and may include chemicals such as glycol ethylene and propylene, glycol ethers, alcohols, formaldehyde, amines, monomers, volatile plasticisers, ammonia and fungicides.
In addition to the health damages, for every gallon of regular paint produced, the mining and transportation of minerals and chemical ingredients production requires 100-kilowatt hours of energy, produces 115 pounds of greenhouse gases, and uses nine gallons of fresh water.
Aiming to reduce the environmental impact, paint recycling programs are being implemented in different countries around the world. In Canada, for example, paint recycling programs help to collect, transport and process post-consumer paint, including unwanted and leftover paints.
Through the recycling process, water-based latex paints are separated from oil-based paints and transported to processing facilities, where they are analysed to ensure they are still usable. After that, similar colours of paint are mixed together and then filtered, and a small amount of biocide is added to rejuvenate the paint and extend its shelf life. The recycled paint is then packaged in pails for sale.
A further sustainable alternative to traditional paints are ‘natural’ paints, plant and mineral-based products made with natural ingredients that do not require high levels of processing.
Most of the components in natural paints are made from renewable resources such as linseed oil and citrus oil, and therefore they help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions over the life of the product. In addition, natural paints use plant-derived solvents and binders instead of synthetic ones, and have low VOC levels, resulting in better health outcomes.
In recent years, public awareness of the availability of recycled and natural paint has improved. However, the demand for these products is only slowly increasing, mainly because of the lack of colour selection and also because they may be expensive and have a limited time of viability before becoming less effective after being applied.