The Natural Artisan: Winter 2014

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HOW TO CHOOSE HEALTHIER AND ENVIRONMENTALLYPREFERABLE PAINTS Paints and coatings can have significant impacts on the environment and human health, depending on what ingredients and components they contain. Paint is made from three basic ingredients: pigment, binder and solvent. In addition to these it can contain a variety of additives, including biocides (to prevent bacteria or fungal growth in the can or on the painted surface). By Emma Lloyd

Each of these ingredients can have an impact on the environment during the life cycle of the paint. PIGMENTS Pigments provide the colour, the opacity and the protective barrier in the paint. Titanium dioxide is used widely in the paint industry for this purpose. Its major environmental impact is in its manufacture, since it has high embodied energy (total amount of energy required to produce and transport a product), is a limited resource and its production results in both air and water emissions that carry an environmental impact. BINDERS The binder is what forms the film in a paint, helping it to adhere to the surface and influencing the resulting shine or flexibility. They can consist of synthetic or natural resins such as acrylics, polyurethanes, vinyl acrylics, melamine resins, epoxies or oils. Some binders cause a greater environmental 18

impact than others. In particular, linoleic acid production (linseed oil) causes significantly more environmental damage to an ecosystem due to crop growth and agriculture. SOLVENTS The solvent can be thought of as the carrier. It evaporates as the paint dries on the surface. Water is obviously the preferable solvent as it causes no environmental problems as it evaporates, whereas organic solvents release volatile organic compounds (VOCs) into the surrounding environment. Solvent-based paint also contains around 50 per cent more embodied energy than water-based paint. VOCs are detrimental to indoor air quality. They can trigger allergies, asthma, headaches and other irritating symptoms as they readily vaporise into the surrounding air. VOC levels in indoor environments rise dramatically immediately after you finish painting, and can continue seeping out of the walls for several years to come. The Natural Artisan

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