We’ve all used paint over the years and probably thought nothing of it. I know I have. That was until I came across eco friendly paint.
Once you have a little look into paint and how it’s made, you’ll soon realise that it’s not very good for either your health or the environment.
With this understanding becoming more widespread throughout the UK public, eco paint is on the up. And it needs to be.
There are a number of ethical concerns in the traditional paint sector. The growing popularity of eco-friendly paint aims to answer these concerns by creating a more sustainable, greener product, and not necessarily in the colour sense!
Let’s take a dive into the colourful world of eco friendly paint. This blog will discuss:
- The problem with traditional paint
- What is eco-friendly paint and what it’s made from
- 8 best places to buy eco-friendly paint
- Wrap up on if paint is sustainable
Disclaimer: This post does contain some affiliate links. All this means is that I may receive a small commission should any sales happen on the back of this post. It acts as a small thank you and helps me to run this website.
The problem with traditional paint
Before we talk about eco friendly paint, we need to know why regular, everyday paint is bad for the environment.
Most of the paint we use in our homes has come a long way since the charcoal and ochre paintings of early humanity.
As time progressed, linseed oil was often used as the vehicle to transfer the pigment to the surface. However, the Second World War created a linseed shortage, which led to the invention and rapid development of artificial, chemical-based resins.
Getting back to basics, traditional paint is made from a mixture of four components:
- Pigment – makes the colour of the paint. This can be made using natural earth or mineral pigments or a synthetic dye.
- Solvent – used to transfer the pigment to the intended surface. Solvents can be water based or more commonly a thin, volatile, aromatic liquid made from petrochemicals.
- Resin – this helps bind everything together and form the paint film after it has dried. This can be a type of oil or wax, but more often than not is a synthetic, vinyl or acrylic resin. You can read more about the sustainability of acrylic here, plus have a look at how eco friendly resin is.
- Additives – these are all the other ingredients. Generally, additives make up a small volume of the liquid but they can have a significant effect on the paint. Additives may be used as fillers, to add a fast drying element, anti-fungal, biocides, to make the paint waterproof, plus other uses.
The environmentally damaging aspect of regular paint is the significant use of synthetics, chemicals and petrochemical-derived ingredients. And there are some nasty ingredients in there – benzene, acetone and formaldehyde to name a few.
Not only do these synthetic ingredients cause damage to the environment during extraction and production, but also during their use and afterlife. It’s thought that microplastics can make up to 15% of some paints.
The main challenge for the paint industry is phasing out the environmentally negative and toxic chemicals.
As paint is commonly used in people’s homes and living spaces, a major concern is the emission of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs).
Eco friendly paint VOC levels
VOCs are emitted from the paint product itself. It might be easier to think of them as fumes.
High levels of VOCs are not good for the environment and cause air pollution. When they reach the atmosphere, VOCs react with sunlight to ozone and smogs.
VOCs are not good for human health either. Many VOCs, such as benzene and formaldehyde are classified human carcinogens, whereas others are heavily suspected carcinogens.
That ‘fresh paint’ smell that’s so familiar – yes, that’s VOCs in the air. Even when the smell has gone, paint will continue to release, or off-gas, VOCs into your home. It’s said that indoor house plants may be good for absorbing VOCs.
The EU first released VOC level regulations for decorative paints in 2004, which were made stricter in 2010.
In between this time, the British Coatings Federation (BCF) introduced a VOC label system to apply to paint products for the consumer to see.
There are five categories of VOC labels:
- Minimal – 0-0.29%
- Low – 0.3-7.99%
- Medium – 8-24.99%
- High – 25-50%
- Very high – over 50%
To be classed as an eco-paint, VOC emissions should be minimal and certainly no higher than the low category levels.
What is eco friendly paint?
Now you have that base knowledge, let’s talk about eco-friendly paint.
Eco friendly paint, sometimes called sustainable paint, can be a number of things. There is no true definition.
It still has to be man-made, but importantly, eco-friendly paint should be ingredients that are earth friendly, responsible sourced and as natural as possible. If you’re looking to go green at home, eco-friendly paint is certainly one area to look at.
Many paints that label themselves as ‘eco-friendly’ often look at one main category: the VOC levels.
If paint has minimal or low VOC emissions, many companies will happily use the eco-friendly tagline. However, there should be a little more to it than this for paint to be classed as truly environmentally friendly.
To be classified as a fully eco-friendly paint, a number of criteria need to be taken into account. So when you are buying sustainable paint look out for the following:
- Minimal or low VOC emissions
- Natural ingredients – although be sure these aren’t toxic e.g. lead
- No petrochemicals, toxins or acrylics in the paint
- Use of natural eco friendly resin, rather than synthetic resin
- Responsible sourcing of ingredients
- No production of hazardous waste during manufacturing
- Carbon footprint – energy use should come from renewables and carbon emissions should be neutral
What is eco friendly paint made of?
As you read just before, paint is made of four main components: pigment, solvent, resin and additives.
To be as eco-friendly as possible, the ingredients that go into paint need to be natural and sustainable.
Pigments should come from natural earth and minerals, such as iron oxides and plants, rather than synthetically produced. Solvents should not be the volatile, petrol-based liquids, but either water-based or natural plant oil.
The binders and any additives should also be natural and environmentally friendly. Many of these are plant-based.
An eco friendly paint can be made from a combination of many ingredients. Some of the most popular include:
- Natural oils e.g. tung, linseed, gum (from tree resin)
Where to buy eco friendly paint UK?
Eco friendly paint is becoming more popular and widely available in the UK thanks to people becoming more eco-conscious in how they live. It’s still only a small percentage in comparison to traditional paint, but it’s heading in the right direction.
There are a number of companies and brands that supply eco friendly paint now. This includes many of the big brands who aren’t necessarily environmentally friendly, but offer a ‘green’ paint version.
Some of the best places to buy eco-friendly paint are:
Frenchic has all the ingredients written on the can. These are all-natural ingredients with zero toxins, very low VOC levels and hardly any smell.
Offer a 100% water-based range with low VOCs. They state that 100% of their dry waste is recycled or converted to biofuel and their metal tin is infinitely recyclable.
Edward Bulmer is one of the original natural paint brands. Teaming up with German company AURO, Edward Bulmer use plant-based binders, natural earth and mineral pigments, and are a carbon neutral company.
4. Eico Paints
Eico environmentally friendly paints are manufactured in Iceland and Sweden using 100% geothermal energy. They are actually climate positive.Eico uses fresh water as their solvent and their paint has minimal VOCs.
Founded in 2002,Earthborn create paints of great quality that are better for the planet and your health.They use environmentally friendly ingredients which are fully labelled on the can.
Little Greene create water-based and natural-oil paints with a minimal VOC rating. They aim to act responsibly to minimise their ecological impact.
Lakeland produce natural, vegan based that are toxic free and contain no vinyls or acrylics. Their paints have minimal VOC emissions and all of their packaging is 100% recyclable.
8. Crown Paints
Crown Paints are committed sustainability and have been producing a earthbalance report since 2008. They have targets to reduce emissions, energy usage, waste and water.
Is paint sustainable?
More often than not the simple answer to this question is no. But things are moving in the right direction and eco paint is becoming more sustainable.
The traditional, everyday paint that has been in use since the mid 1900s is not sustainable. It is made from many synthetic, non-renewable ingredients, toxins and can contain high levels of VOC.
Eco-friendly paint is the best bet for sustainable paint. With any man-made product though, there are a number of areas to consider if paint really is to be sustainable. An eco-friendly paint company should consider:
- Ingredient use
- Responsible sourcing
- Manufacturing process
- VOC emissions
So, paint can be sustainable but only when the above areas are considered and taken into account during the manufacturing process.
I hope that gives you a little more knowledge on paint and the eco-friendly alternatives out there. If you’re looking to paint some furniture or paint the walls in your home, it’s better for you and the environment if you opt for an eco-friendly paint.
If you liked that, read more on eco friendly living…
Ben is the Creator and Editor of Tiny Eco Home Life. I write and publish information about more sustainable, environmentally friendly living in and around the home.
Alongside this website, I love spending time in the natural world, living a simple life and spending time with my young family (Murphy the dog!) I round up my thoughts and recent blogs on the Eco Life Newsletter.