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Environmental Impact of Toxic Paints

We are by right a nation of DIY’ers, Upcyclers and wannabe Interior Designers – even more so now thanks to the dreaded ‘C’ word. Television programmes such as Changing Rooms, Homes under the Hammer, Grand Designs and George Clarke’s Amazing Spaces have certainly shown that we can do some pretty fab things with a few cans of paint and a roller. 

However, a beautifully painted home can come with a hefty price, not necessarily to your pocket but certainly to the world around us.  In the past we have tended to forget the huge impact that paint has on our environment. 🍃

In a world where people are so focused on their carbon footprint and the environment around them it’s not surprising that consumers are shifting their focus away from the norm when it comes to buying paint for a DIY project. With so much emphasis on global warming, the ozone layer and the irreparable damage that some chemicals have on our environment consumers are taking note and after seeing the effects with their own eyes are taking matters into their own hands - opting for products that are more sustainable and environmentally friendly over the “does what is says on the tin” mentality of previous gens. 

There’s no doubt about it, paint is traditionally full of chemicals. So even forgetting for a second the potential impact on your home and your body, they unavoidably have a huge impact on the environment. 

But thank goodness, there have been major changes in developing environmentally and eco-friendly paints and varnishes over the last 20 years or so 🙌. New Government Guidelines obviously had an underlying factor in some of these innovations but these changes are also a by-product of the consumer market. Manufacturers have listened to the consumer who have taken on board what is happening to our planet and their concerns have seen them looking for more sustainable products that are not only more efficient but also safer, both to the health of those that are using them and for the environment. 

We’re one of the newcomers of course, putting eco creds right at the heart of our whole business from day 1. Climate Positive, water-based and low VOCs are just some of our top points. 

Hooked?  [Check out our Climate Positive stats here – accredited by Carbon Jacked.]

Negative Effects of Paint 

In environmental terms, the production technology for most paints and varnishes is basically the same. A paint or varnish is a multicomponent system including film-forming materials, filler, pigments, thinners, solvents, functional additives,  hardeners, accelerators and desiccants, many of which are environmental hazards.  

Film forming materials which are the basis of any paint or varnish are natural or synthetic, high molecular compounds which are capable of forming a solid coating on a surface. Most are synthetic (acryl, polyeurothane, nitrocellulose) paint components with the greatest environmental impact are fillers and pigments, even though they primarily come from natural origins (chalk powder, gypsum, soot, talc, graphite etc).

Paints and varnishes differ in composition and in their impact on the environment and in turn human health. Likewise, their impact differs at each stage of the life cycle from extraction of the raw materials, production of the paint or varnish, application and use disposal.

Below we have listed the prominent factors that have driven the need for more eco-friendly paint products to be produced:

  • Hazardous air pollutants and odours. These are the fumes and strong smells that can affect people that use or are in the vicinity of someone that is using these products indoors.  These pollutants can also spread over a larger area is they are inadvertently released into the air outside.  People working in a manufacturing environment where paints and varnishes are produced are also at risk.
  • Volatile organic compounds (VOCs). These are potential hazardous air pollutants and are given off as gases or vapours from solids or liquids. As well as causing health issues which we mentioned before like headaches, breathing difficulties and eye and skin irritation VOCs have also been known to contaminate drinking water and groundwater and drinking water supply wells, creating additional hazards.  The most important and hazardous environmental impact from paints is the release of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) which occur during the drying process when literally everything in a typical paint formulation, other than the solids, are released into the open air which undoubtedly makes VOCs one of the more important risks to the environment.
  • Energy consumption.  All manufacturing will have some form of energy consumption but it is important for manufacturers to modify their processes, typically when paint coatings are being made, so that less energy is being used when they are produced.
  • Paint disposal.  This needs to be done properly, if not it can have a huge effect on the environment through the introduction of toxic waste.  Efforts need to be continued to introduce and simplify processes that will make the disposal of paint and varnish products much easier in the future.

Changes To Minimise The Negative Effects 

The planet spoke and everyone listened 🌎.  World Leaders, The Government, Activists, Environmentalists, Consumers and now, finally, manufacturers. Many paint companies are producing paint products that have been certified as 'environmentally friendly', but are still synthetic paints made from petrochemicals, with lower concentrations of VOC. These products are a step in the right direction, and should be considered by people if they specifically want to use acrylic paints.

Some manufacturers have changed course completely and are opting to manufacture “Natural paints”. These paints are formulated using natural ingredients which in turn do not need such high levels of processing, therefore reducing energy consumption in the manufacturing process.  The majority of the ingredients in these Natural paints are from renewable resources such as citrus oil and linseed oil.

With VOC levels registering at just 1% or less, the solvents and binders that are found in Natural paints are derived from plants which reduces the need for animal testing and do not have such adverse effects to humans or the environment.

There has been a notable demand for water-based paints by consumers; what with tightened industry regulations and new Government Legislations along with the growing concerns regarding the environment this is welcomed news to all and manufacturers are focussing more on formulating and producing paint that is less toxic to both customers and the environment.

Positive Results 

The innovations that have improved the processes and formulations for paints and varnishes have shown a positive environmental impact already and with these being developed constantly to continue this eco-friendly drive we are already seeing positive results 😊.

  • Reduced emissions. The use of architectural coatings may have increased over the years but VOC emissions have decreased somewhat. Numerous manufacturers now formulate their paints with lower emissions and lower odour which improves air quality indoors.
  • Use of more eco-friendly materials  Almost 75% of the worldwide sale of coatings are for environmentally friendly products with a high number of these products being water-based.  Raw materials that have been deemed toxic have been eliminated completely as additives and ingredients and the solvent content has also been significantly reduced.
  • Increased energy efficiency.  With more effort being made when formulating coatings the need for so much energy to be used when manufacturing these products in the first place has been drastically reduced.  The use of more natural and less toxic ingredients and additives to paints and varnishes has dramatically lowered the amount of processing required, thus lowering the amount of energy needed, which is a win win situation for everyone, especially the planet.
  • Reduced waste and proper disposal.   It has been an ongoing priority to reduce the amount of waste in the paint coating industry and the collection and recycling of unused paint has increased incrementally over the years and as such, the generation of hazardous waste has been significantly reduced.

How COAT is environmentally friendly


We make our paints using high-calibre raw materials. That means quality pigments, lots of good resin, and high-grade titanium dioxide. That’s what makes a good paint. There’s no rubbish or fillers that give you a tin of dishwater, or a lump of custard.

COAT only uses Grade-A ingredients. That means you get great coverage (fewer coats), velvet-smooth application, rich colour, and finish that lasts - even if you need to clean it.

Our water-based recipe is low VOC (toxin) and odour, so it’s safe for your home and you can use the space straight away.

Obviously COAT isn’t tested on animals, and it’s Vegan too.

With that in mind, we formulated the only 3 products you’ll ever need for inside your home, using all the right ingredients. From our eco-formulations and recycled packaging, to sustainable logistics, operations and eco-accessories we have always been determined to make our paint as eco-friendly as possible – we don’t even have tester pots – we use innovative paint swatches which are 100% recyclable and give you a true colour match.

Heard enough? [Grab a swatch]

There has been some amazing progress made already to ensure that paint coatings are more responsible from an environmental perspective but it is a long process and much more work is needed in the future. Nonetheless, with the constant and continuous innovation that’s occurring in the manufacture and production of paint coatings there is  promise of a greener, more efficient future which not only reduces financial costs but environmental ones too.  By assessing the environmental impact of paint and varnishes developers can now start to create new and greener products which, in an age where low environmental impact is a HUGE selling point for paints and varnishes, switching to safer materials can only be an advantage to manufacturers in such a tight and competitive consumer market.




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