Paint: The environmental impact and how to make greener choices
A few recent articles have highlighted the devastating contribution of paint from offshore structures to the oceans’ microplastic crisis. Oil rigs, wind turbines and bridges need regular repainting with the old paint jet blasted into the sea. It may seem like a ‘drop in the ocean’ but on an industrial scale, this is causing havoc to carefully balanced underwater ecosystems. This story inspired us to look a bit more closely into paint and how we can choose products and design processes to minimise the environmental impact.
Air pollutants and vapours
When choosing paints you should opt for low or minimal VOC (Volatile Organic Compounds). Remember when the overpowering smell of a decorating project could last for weeks? That was the effect of pollutants being released from oil and solvent-based paints as they dried. These pollutants are known as VOCs and they don’t just give you a bit of headache, they contain known carcinogens. Back in 2009, the WHO reported that professional decorators were at a 40% higher risk of contracting lung cancer.
In 2012, legislation was brought in, The Volatile Organic Compounds in Paints, Varnishes and Vehicle Refinishing Products Regulations 2012. This placed much stricter limits on the VOC content of paint products and those paints deemed to have dangerous levels of VOCs were removed from sale. However, it did not ban VOC emissions altogether and paints available today do have a wide variety of levels of VOC. Lakeland Paints, for example, ensure their paints are 100% free from VOCs whereas many brands stick just within the legislation, especially in gloss and varnishes.
Disposal of waste paint
Paint is not easy to dispose of. As anyone who’s completed a domestic decorating project will know, your almost empty cans will either find their way to the back of the shed or will need to be taken to a local recycling centre. For commercial projects, we have to dispose of paint carefully. Paint, both water-based and oil-based, is considered hazardous waste.
We put in the effort to estimate as accurately as possible and don’t order excessive ‘contingency’. It’s not easy to manage as once you have decorators on site it’s crucial to have the supplies available. Although it goes against a designer’s instinct, choosing colours readily available from DIY shops is a good way of preventing waste. We try to estimate conservatively and buy additional cans if required.
For DIY projects there are so many sub-standard products available and you can waste 3 cans easily when 1 premium can would do. Think of plastic waste and landfill! Please don’t be lured into the false economy of cheap paint.
There are also organisations, including Community RePaint, which is sponsored by Dulux, who match your leftover paint with community projects in need. Disposing of paint is hazardous so the best thing to do is to prevent waste altogether and share any useable leftovers with someone in need.
Manufacture of paint
The energy consumption involved in the manufacturing of products is often overlooked. However green or ‘natural’ the product, if the manufacturing process is using vast quantities of energy, water or chemicals then the environmental credentials are highly questionable.
The British Coatings Federation (BCF) announced for COP26 that its membership, including AkzoNobel (parent company of Dulux, Cuprinol, International Paint and Hammerite, amongst many others) had signed a declaration of intention to reach net-zero by 2050. Additionally, they have committed to increasing the percentage of paint “re-used, recycled, or re-manufactured from 2% today to 75% by 2030”.
These may seem like rather unambitious targets but perhaps it’s a testament to the fact that the majority of paint being manufactured comes from huge petro-chemical companies whose processes and products will need extraordinary change to achieve environmental goals. It’s certainly made us consider using paint from smaller manufacturers who are doing all they can to push their emissions down.
Innovations are being made all the time. Who knows what the future brings. In the meantime, we believe it’s our duty to be informed and offer greener choices to our clients. If you need some help making sustainable choices for your commercial interiors please get in touch.