It is estimated that there are almost 60,000 tonnes of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) released into Australia’s atmosphere every year. Major paint manufacturers contribute significantly to this amount using tints that contain high levels of VOCs.
Traditional oil-based paints are generally composed of 35-50% chemicals including aromatic hydrocarbons, ketones, alcohol, esters, volatile plasticisers and fungicides, just to name a few.
When paint dries, it releases these compounds which can cause headaches, nausea, eye and nose irritations and throat infections. In worse case scenarios, there is a risk of kidney disorders, and some VOCs in paint are known carcinogens. Even tinted paint that has been labelled as ‘Low-VOC’ often contains levels that can still cause damage to people’s health and the environment. Water-based acrylics may contain the same chemicals and still have 3-7% solvent content.
Apart from health damages, the environmental impact is devastating. For every litre of paint produced, the transportation and mining of the ingredients requires 25-kilowatt hours of energy, uses 9 litres of fresh water and produces 15 kilos of greenhouse gases.
Fortunately, paint recycling programs are being implemented worldwide to help collect, transport and process post-consumer paint, including leftover and unwanted paints. Another sustainable alternative are ‘natural’ paints with components made from renewable resources such as linseed and citrus oil. These ingredients do not require high levels of processing, and help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions over the life of the product. Natural paints also contain much lower levels of VOCs.
Public awareness of recycled and natural paint has increased only slowly over recent years, mainly because of the expense and lack of colour choices.