Concern about the environment is becoming much more mainstream these days. Only five years ago anyone suggesting that they were going to look for green decorating products would have been labelled a yoghurt-knitting hippy.
But as we now experience the weather changing around us, the effect that our living choices have on the planet become more obvious every summer (or lack of!) and it’s no longer considered outrageous to make ‘green’ choices.
And as far back as 1989 the World Health Organisation published research that showed that professional painters and decorators had a 40% higher than average risk of getting cancer.
What are the Issues?
Determining whether or not a product is eco-friendly can be a nightmare in itself. There are two main areas of concern when it comes to decorating materials, the first is the possibility of harm to people while they live in houses decorated with products full of CFC’s PVC’s and the rest.
The second is the damage done to the environment when the products are manufactured and transported to you.
Paint is one of the products that you’ll be using a lot of if you’re renovating a property, and fortunately there are now an increasing number of companies providing green alternatives.
In fact paint is targeted by the UK Government’s Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC) legislation, which is intended to come into force over the next five years.
The components currently thought to be best avoided are the solvents and petro-chemicals that for the liquid and heavy metals used for the colouring.
How Paint is Made ‘Green’
Most of the eco-friendly paints on the market are water-soluble and use plant oils such as linseed oil and plant resins to form the paint solution. The pigmentation comes from minerals or plant dyes. Some eco-friendly paints are supplied as powders, which you dilute yourself.
This reduces the weight and size of the paint, so the environmental damage from transporting the paint is lessened, and large metal or plastic containers don’t have to be manufactured to hold the paint on its journey from the factory to your home.
Many of the paint manufacturers also provide other supporting products such as solvent-free thinners and brush cleaners.
This all helps minimise the harmful chemicals that go down the drain and into our water treatment systems.
Consider using wood and plaster for finishing architraves, borders, dado rails and other trims rather than plastic.
Wood varnishes and waxes are also available from eco-friendly sources, along with green products to clean and prepare walls before painting, such as wallpaper and paint stripper.
It’s important to realise that eco-friendly paint will still give off fumes and smells that can cause problems.
Just because the ingredients are organic and natural doesn’t mean that they are free from those side effects of painting, but the fumes will not carry the harmful chemicals that mainstream paints contain.
Wallpapers haven’t received as much attention as paint, as wallpaper paste is not as inherently dangerous as paint, but eco-friendly glues are available and certainly wipe-clean papers with a vinyl finish should be avoided.
Natural and even organic wall-coverings such as Hessian, cotton and wool are available but they are considerably more expensive than the more easily available papers from a DIY store.
That is where the biggest problem lies, there’s no getting away from the fact that an eco-friendly option will be considerably more expensive than the products in common use today.
Part of this is because of the economies of scale and as green products become more common they will come down in price.
But part of it is because the manufacturers cannot, because of their ethical stance, build harmful factories in developing countries and use cheap labour in countries where labour laws are less effective than in the UK and Europe.
Assuming this is something that interests you, how can you find out how ‘green’ or natural a product is before you use it? The easiest way is to contact the manufacturers or look them up on the web.
Because of their ecological stance they usually also have an open information policy and will happily provide information sheets covering the ingredients and production methods they employ.
One manufacturer, for example, states on their website that the linseed oil they use in their paints and wood finishes comes from local sources a maximum of twelve miles from the factory.
So if a manufacturer is reluctant to answer your questions, they are probably not as green as they say they are.