There are many options to choose from when it comes to decorating the interior walls of your home- wallpapering and painting are the top two choices for homeowners worldwide. Paint has come a long way since it was originally created filled with harmful toxins, but the eco-minded of you out there can be extra savvy when it comes to choosing paint that isn’t going to have an adverse effect on the environment and your health.
When you color your walls with some paints the industrial strength toxins and chemicals used to maintain consistency, durability and colorfastness leave a strong ‘new paint’ smell which can damage the human body and the food you eat. Those are just the preliminary effects and these chemicals can leak out of the paint for many years afterwards unbeknownst to the occupants. Here we’re going to take a look at some of the types of eco-paint available as well as highlighting the risks of toxic paint and its disposal.
What’s actually in paint?
- Some of the most dangerous compounds that make up most paint bases are VOCs- volatile organic compounds. The clue is in their name, ‘volatile’, because they can evaporate easily at regular room heat.
- Those which have been made via the oil-based route instead of water-based can emit many times more VOCs over the lifetime of the paint, and some can contain as much as 60% VOCs in comparison to the water-based 10% used.
- Fungicides stop any mould from growing on the newly painted wall by making the environment inhospitable for life. The problem comes when these toxic properties are still detectable in rooms up to half a decade after they’ve been painted.
- Pigmentation of the paint requires other toxins to be used in conjunction with the already potent VOC base. Natural pigments can be found in stores or you can even add your own separately to a white base.
A look at some great environmentally-friendly paints and stains available in the USA:
The Old-Fashioned Milk Paint Company
Based in Massachusetts, this family-owned business created paint in 16 different colors that is derived entirely from milk protein- a revolutionary technique that gives soft and gentle colors. Only natural ingredients are used and there are extremely low VOC emissions due to the lack of poisonous biocides.
A blank white paint is sold by this company for both internal and external decorating, and you can add a natural coloring to it too for a clean and fresh look. They don’t use any solvents or toxic petrochemicals which can release for months afterwards into your living space, and it is purely plant-based.
One of the premier creators of safe, non-toxic paints in the US, Benjamin Moore offers a green promise on all its paints. As a result of the water-based process, VOCs are eliminated- leaving a pleasant smelling room instead of the regular strong odor. The paint is a bit more costly than others on the market, but you’re not going to find a greener paint than this.
With a range of safe paints, stains and finishes for inside and outside the home, this company has met high standards of obtaining some of the lowest VOCs around. All the paints are made with only natural substances and there are hardly and biocides used to preserve it. The wood stains are particularly impressive, allowing decking to endure all weathers with its natural coating.
American Formulating and Manufacturing have created lines of stains, paints and sealers which are all completely free from harmful chemicals and fungicides. The tinting needs to be carried out separately in a local supply store, but the base paint has no formaldehyde whatsoever and very low VOC emissions compared to others around.
Paint toxin risks
Firstly, there are known carcinogens and neurotoxicants in many types of paint which cause brain deficiencies and cancer over prolonged exposure. Once the chemicals have been applied to the walls or wood, there is a firsthand effect of many toxins being released- the ‘new paint’ smell.
After this, over the course of many years, the paint can continue to leak harmful chemicals into your living space- known as ‘off-gas’. Initially it can cause dizziness and throat irritations, but over time kidney damaging can occur as it processes the toxins being taken into your system- even the lungs can be badly affected with strong paints.
What to look for when buying paint:
- Low in VOCs
- Low in fungicides/biocides
- No lead compounds used at all
- Pigments from a natural source
- Preferably water-based
- Milk and latex paints
How to dispose of paints and stains safely
As we’ve already seen, paints and stains used everyday are not only made from harmful chemicals but can also have a profound effect on their immediate environment- on earth, in the air and in our water systems.
The compounds used to make paint take years to break down so if they regularly come into contact with areas of nature such as lakes and rivers then the effect will be devastating. It was starve the fish, plants and other aquatic life of oxygen vital to life.
Always make sure you only buy enough paint for the job you need; measuring wall surface areas beforehand is a good idea as each tin will tell you what the expected coverage will be. Any paint which is leftover can be donated to charities, schools, community projects, churches and local groups for their renovation projects.
If you can’t find a new home for your leftover tin of paint or stain, then the local waste recycling centre will have a dedicated section for receiving liquids that cannot be recycled because of their solvent nature.
Never pour paint away down the drain as the consequences can be toxic to the ecosystem. It’s not advisable to place the tin in the regular waste because it can leak out and spread fumes when it arrives at the landfill.