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Category: Decorating

The problem with decorating is that because the finished effect is so wonderful we don’t stop to think about the paints that got us there.

This article is not an attack on the paint industry or decorators or even you the enthusiastic DIY redecorator. This is an “eye opener” to what we are actually doing when we do a bit of repainting.

The figures are amazing!

Cans of different coloured paints

How Green is the paint that you decorate with?

5 Shocking Facts About Paint

Painting and the paint industry has not traditionally been an Eco-friendly industry. Things are changing, but here are some staggering facts that will make you think:

  1. Professional decorators are 40% more likely to suffer from lung cancer, according to the World Health Organisation. The industry has “cleaned up” significantly in recent years particularly as EU legislation has limited many of the nasty chemicals allowed in traditional paints. This figure is obviously a reflection of past days when legislation was less tight and we simply didn’t know as much about the effects of many of the chemicals that were going into paints. It will not be so bad going forward, but it is a worrying statistic
  2. The paint manufacturing industry is among the most polluting in the world. This will depend a lot on how you measure pollution and who you speak to, so this is somewhat subjective. Some put it second only to the automotive industry in terms of the whole life pollution effect, including manufacture, the life and disposal of the product. As most of the paint industry is essentially a part of the petrochemical industry, it is hard to deny that it is not in the top 5 at least. Pigments used can be highly toxic (when being prepared) and the solvents and binders are derived from crude oil in many cases
  3. Only 3% of the VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds) released and polluting the atmosphere comers from paint in the EU used for home decoration. VOCs are the nasty compounds associated with pollution and a number of health problems; we cover them in more detail in our Eco Paint project. While 3% seems very little, it is a lot considering that it is only released from drying paint, not being continually pumped out of vehicle exhausts, for example. More worrying is that before it reaches the dilute environment of our atmosphere, it is often first constrained with us in our homes while our paint dries. You should ventilate while and after painting so that the concentrations of theses VOCs is kept to a minimum, but it is inevitable that you will be in a higher concentration environment for some time
  4. To make 1 litre of paint can take up to 30 litres of toxic chemicals. This only gives you an idea of the scale of the chemicals that are used to make traditional paints, and the damage that they will inflict on the environment. This is exacerbated by our next fact
  5. 10% of all paint that we purchase, we never use. Of course this is an estimate, but it is probably pretty conservative when you consider how many paints tins you have collected over the years as leftovers from one project or other. Because of the amount of nasty chemicals in traditional paints, disposing of paint has always been a problem

This is not meant to be alarmist, but as you can see, from cradle to grave a pot of traditional paint is not an eco-friendly thing at all. As we have said, things are changing and traditional paints have got much cleaner as we discover issues with the compounds that are used and the legislation tightens up.

Manufacturing paint

How ‘Green’ is the manufacturing of paint? – Image courtesy of National Paint

Eco Friendly Paints

We should be able say that Eco Paints are the answer, however it is not quite so simple. There is a lack of standards and regulations about what is Eco Paint. Some paint manufacturers will tackle the issue of environmental impact of the manufacturing process, while others might source natural ingredients which require more processing. Both are admirable but which is right, or where should the emphasis be?

We tackle these issues in greater detail in our project on eco paints, and there is a list of suppliers that we believe meet the Eco Paints standards, for varying reasons and through different approaches. The project will help you understand what they are claiming so you can see if it is important to you.

So there is an answer, if is just that you have to work to figure out what you value in an eco paint, and then use a supplier that meets your needs.


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