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ecological decorating...

the ecological paints debate...

The term 'natural' when referring to ecological paints can be very misleading and confusing, as all paints, even petrochemical based paints are derived from an organic compound and therefore in chemistry terms make them 'natural' and 'organic'. However, ecological paints differ in their content, being virtually, if not totally non-pollutive and non-poisonous, unlike their counterparts from the 'main stream' paint manufacturing industry, whose products contain high levels of hazardous, ozone depleting solvents and highly toxic components, which include among other things polymers such as PVC which are manufactured from incredibly poisonous monomers, in this case vinyl chloride, considered harmful even at concentrations of a few parts per million. Once petrochemical compounds are used they continue to out-gas for months, even years and being inhaled or absorbed through the skin can result in problems ranging from asthma, headaches and fatigued to memory loss, cancer and at extremes even death.

In 1989 a press release stated the report of the World Health Organisation (WHO) finding that painters have a 40% higher than average chance of contracting lung cancer and a 20% chance of contracting cancer as a whole.

The report also found that:
• Children of painters are at an increased risk of leukemia and brain tumours.
• Female painters suffer 'excess frequency' of spontaneous abortion.
• Spray painters are more prone to testicular cancer.
• Paint has adverse effects on the nervous system.

What sets ecological paints apart, is that they do not contain high levels of solvents, which are generally referred to as Volatile Organic Compounds or VOCs and this coupled with the fact that they are non-toxic and therefore do not contain any potentially harmful components, which is of great benefit to allergy and asthma suffers, whose every day environment is becoming increasingly saturated with toxic chemicals. It must be noted though, that ecological paints may also have an adverse affect on these people.

When referring to organic paints in context from an ecological view, it is that the plant-based content of the paint as been grown by organic methods, therefore having a sustainability credential that other ecological paint brands might lack, in the fact that they are compostable and for that reason referred to as being a 'closed cycle'.

Therefore, ecological paints are extensively more beneficial to health and the environment being free from toxic emissions and poisonous chemicals, associated with ozone depletion, green house gases and sick building syndrome. Their permeability allows surfaces to breath, as do authentic traditional paints, thus improving interior air quality and lends itself toward a holistic approach to living.

There is no standard by which ecological paints are tested in Britain such as the British Standard Kite Mark or BBA status (British Board of Agreement), however, some of the German manufactured paints are tested to the German Industrial Norm (DIN) and are members of the German Registered Association of Natural Paint Manufactures (ENAV) and the European Union Ecolabel system, which will give consumers assurance in quality and the ecological status of the product.

traditional paints...

Truly manufactured traditional paints (with the exception of lead based ones) are ecological, with linseed oil being used for glosses, flat oil paints and coloured with earth pigments. Processing metals at high temperature resulted in an inert substance that was used for strong, deep vibrant colours. Casein emulsions (milk derived), along with various lime paints were also available. The availability of traditional paints decreased drastically, once the petrochemical industry became involved with the production of paints.

existing paints...

It is now becoming accepted that the petrochemical raw material, crude oil, is a very rare commodity and should therefore be used in a responsible manner to manage the remaining reserves, as it has a very useful purpose if used accordingly. It is of a late, that I see that the 'purist brigade' now concedes that some of the products they advocate contain some 'cleaned' solvents and synthetic driers from petrochemicals, which are preferred, as no natural ones exist and the alternatives are more harmful.

From a performance prospective, ecological paints are adequate when dealing with domestic and commercial applications, but inadequate when dealing with the majority of industrial applications, when pitched along side existing products that are in use. The ecological, sustainability and economic issues come in to question, as for example, if a modern petrochemical industrial paint lasts up to 3 times longer than a ecological paint in its performance, then, which is the most ecological when you consider the following:

The whole process of preparing any surface to be painted creates atmospheric pollution, in the form of dust partials, which consists mainly of the existing paint coating.

The ecological paint to be used with its related production issues of energy consumption, raw material sourcing, whether it is mining extraction or farming, and, the carbon emissions associated with production and transportation of the raw materials and the delivery of the product.

The economic issue of repeating the process an additional 2 times, with labour being the major cost in any decorating application. The disruption, with the possible loss of production and profit margins, created by accommodating the decorating schedule of works.

The sensible thing to do is to remove the major pollutant from the paint, the solvent, which is now being addressed, as manufactures have to comply with new requirements on VOCs in all there products by 2010, as is outlined in the new legalization as follows:

'The new UK legislation is based on EU directive 2004/42/EC which all European Union member states must introduce. It covers coatings applied to buildings, their trim and fittings, and associated structures when applied for decorative, functional and protective purposes. It includes imported products but specifically excludes aerosols and products applied under licence to historic buildings'

This is a step in the right direction. However, for the main stream paint manufacturing industry to achieve this, they will have to use far more hazardous synthetic components in formulations that are far more complex.

sustainability regarding paints...

Paints, unlike other building materials such as wood and stone are not recyclable and therefore have a direct impact on the environment at the end of their life cycle. To reduce this, it is beneficial to use paints that are ecological wherever suitable at all times, as the production of conventional paints is alarmingly inefficient in terms of energy usage, which the manufacture of one ton can produce up to ten tonnes of by product waste, of which, most is toxic and non-degradable.

The natural alternatives, varying vegetable oils (linseed, soya, sunflower, ect) are hardly a cottage industry in themselves, they are traded on the international commodity markets and their refineries; massive chemical complexes have as much potential for environmental disaster as petrochemical plants do, to imply otherwise is misleading and would not constitute a balanced debate. This does also go some way to detracting from the common misconception and idyllic notion, that ecological paint manufacturing is a cottage production industry.

The real environmental credentials of natural paints lie in the fact that they are based on raw materials from renewable resources and employ minimum processing energy. However, the paint industries favourite binding medium throughout the 20th and 21st century has been alkyd resin, based on a wide range of vegetable oils which are sustainably harvested. Conventional paint manufactures do not consume energy for the sake of it; boiling linseed oil improves handling and drying properties slightly, but cooking it into an alkyd resin improves these qualities out of sight. Therefore, environmental paints that employ this technology offer an improved performance, which repays many times over the additional energy consumed in turn and most importantly, the protection of the painted article/ substrate.