Refresh No.1: What’s in your paint?

The benefits of paints with a lower environmental and health impact are obvious, but how much do we know about what’s actually in the average tin?

Paint consists of three basic ingredients – pigment, binder and solvent – plus a range of additives. Each ingredient can potentially have a negative environmental or health impact over the life cycle of the paint. Pigments, for example, provide the colour and opacity in paint, and titanium dioxide is often used for this purpose. Unfortunately, its manufacturing process can be environmentally harmful: it contains high embodied energy, is a limited resource and results in unwanted air and water emissions.

The solvent evaporates as paint dries, and if an organic solvent has been used (as opposed to a water base), it most likely releases volatile organic compounds (VOCs) into the air. This contributes to poor indoor air quality and a range of respiratory symptoms.

Paints may also contain biocides for preventing bacterial or fungal growth in the can or on the painted surface. While these are necessary, it’s important to exclude any that are carcinogenic or otherwise significantly toxic.

Third-party certification, such as the Good Environmental Choice Australia ecolabel, is evidence that environmental or health claims made by a paint manufacturer are verifiable and that the product is a better choice. The GECA Paints and Coatings standard places strict limits on substances such as titanium dioxide and ensures VOCs are kept to a minimum.

Refresh content provided by our Education Partner, Good Environmental Choice Australia.