Environmental Hazards of Paints

Published: 22nd June 2010
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What are the major environmental issues as far as paints are concerned? And how significant are paints in relation to the rest of human activity?



Detailed reports such as that by VTT in Finland on wood coatings, or the EU's research on interior paints and coatings for the paint Eco label, have identified a number of areas where environmental impact caused from paint has been observed. Foremost among these are issues of:



* Energy use (particularly non-renewable energy)

* CO2/ methane/VOC emissions (particularly in relation to global warming)

* Pollution of air (SO2, NOx, CO2, heavy metal particulates, VOCs)

* Pollution of land and sea (sulphate and chlorine waste, heavy metals and some

Other products)

* Resource use and extraction



The impact of paints comes mainly from the manufacture of the individual components, rather than from the mixing and manufacture of the paint itself. In the VTT report, it was estimated that around 10% of environmental impact is due to the manufacturing process. Moreover, the report study also reflected that transporting the finished paint for a distance of 100km resulted in less than 1% of the environmental impact of most products, although for environmental impacts such as the emission of NOx and VOCs this could be as high as 5%. This is an important fact to be considered as majority of paints (both conventional and environmental) mainly marketed in UK are imported from Europe.



It is difficult to judge the relevance of these emissions and the energy usage in relation to other impacts and to the whole environmental situation. The Eco label report estimated that only 3% of the solvent emissions in Europe come from paints (about the same as aerosols and cosmetics according to Unilever), whereas the VTT report suggests that, for Finland, as a percentage of the total of man made VOCs, coatings constitute around 12%. This includes industrial coatings and car paints. Most house paints have small amounts of VOCs in comparison. Nonetheless, the proportion is significant and the VTT report concludes that "the reduction of emissions of photochemical oxidants should still be one of the primary interests of the paint industry"". Similarly, although the figures are more vague, the report says that "the environmental burdens of 1kg of paint are rather low, the adoption of Eco based product development methodologies is nationally and economically necessary. This is critical when the total energy consumption and related emissions are to be controlled or reduced."





Importantly, the significant factors in energy terms, global warming potential (not only CO2 but also VOCs and other emissions) and pollution of the sea and land are largely to do with the 3 main constituents of paints (apart from water): TiO2, solvents (organic) and binders. Overwhelmingly, the most important and significant impact comes from TiO2. To quote the Eco label report:



The four environmental problems to which paints and varnishes contribute most are,

* Non renewable resources depletion due to petroleum consumption for the production of Titanium Dioxide (TiO2), resins and solvents.

* Global warming through CO2 and VOC (volatile organic compounds) production is caused due to TiO2 production and also due to Solvent Paints and Varnishes application.

* Atmospheric acidification due to CO2 and SOx resulting from TiO2 process.

* Discharges of waste into water essentially due to TiO2 process.



As mentioned in the beginning of this article, paints are mainly pigments, binders and solvents. In a typical paint, the solvent (water or spirit) can be up to 50% of the total product, while the amount of binder can be 12% to 25% and the basic pigment (TiO2) can also constitute about 12 %to 25% of the total product. However, the embodied energy of these products is quite different.



Purepaint provides domestic and commercial eco painting and decorating services. At purepaint we only use non toxic paints and offer Home Decorating Paint, Complete interior and exterior decoration services.

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