Painting the walls in one’s home is an easy way to perk up the walls and your mood. However, the cost of paint is not the only thing cautious DIY redecorators should watch out for. Volatile Organic Compounds, or VOC, for short can be hazardous to the environment at large, not to mention your living quarters.
What Are Volatile Organic Compounds?
VOC’s emit pollutants that contribute to smog, can cause lung and breathing disorders and they are also part of our greenhouse gas emissions. Environment Canada’s definition of volatile compounds defines VOC’s as toxic “compounds that evaporate readily to the atmosphere.” The word “organic” in its name can be misleading to anyone who defines organic as “healthy” or “pure”: Any compound with carbon in it is by definition, organic, so the legal and scientific definition of organic differs from mainstream perception.
Reduce Waste With Low VOC paints
Reading the label and asking a paint specialist if the paint is VOC free or reduced in VOC emissions is a good start. Most paints include toxins like mercury, ammonia, and phthalates. Emitting toxins altogether may be difficult, but it is not impossible: Many companies have now jumped on the environmental bandwagon and are producing more sustainable products.
One company called Boomerang specializes in recycled paint, which means it is created from existing paint that reduces some of the toll manufacturing would otherwise put on the environment.
Even Boomerang’s paint cans are made from recovered material. The manufacturing company, Laurentide, touts the product as “90 grams of VOC’s per litre, significantly lower than Environment Canada’s standard of 250 grams per litre.”
A company called Duron also manufactures a line of paint called Genesis, which labels its product as being Zero VOC. Justin Thomas of Treehugger, had compiled a list of affordable, low VOC and zero VOC paints so the discerning house painter can make an informed decision before buying – and disposing – their selected can of paint.
Reduce Toxins with Milk Paint
Unfortunately, a low VOC quotient means that there will still be toxins present in the paint, stain or solvent. Options like whitewash, milk paints or vegetable based paint may be a better choice. One paint company that makes milk based paint is Homestead Housing . Another company that creates environmentally safe paint is Real Milk Paint (www.realmilkpaint.com.)
Most milk paints follow traditional manufacturing methods dating back for more than two hundred years. The tints in milk-based paints are made from pigments in vegetables, roots and seeds, and yield a “rustic” look to most furnishings and walls.
Milk paint must be sealed with a finishing product: Hemp oil, linseed oil, or wax are recommended as toxin free options, as opposed to varnishes or petroleum-based polish. Homestead House suggests that when painting a ceiling with milk paint, varnish is not necessary.
Disposing Used Paint Cans
Since commercial paints contain traces of lead or other chemicals, there are environmentally safe ways to ensure that your used paint does not find its way into a landfill, where it can leach toxins into waterways or the soil.
Some hardware stores in Canada are offering depots where consumers can drop off their used paint cans. Many municipalities within Canada are also offering days within certain communities where both liquid and aerosol cans of paint, varnish, sealants and solvents can be dropped off to be recovered. Look into such services in your neighbourhood, by using key words such as “stewardship”, “toxic disposal” or “household hazardous waste” in your local search engine.