Green living: The evolution of paint

Green living: The evolution of paint
Green living: The evolution of paint
Universal Magazines

Wallpaper & Paints

The evolution of paint into an eco-friendly substance

Paint has followed its own chequered path of development over the last 20,000 years. Borne from humans’ obsession with colours and our inability not to graffiti, we made our mark with iron oxides (Egyptians), the squish left over from crushing shell fish (Romans), the goo extracted from the poor female cochineal beetle (Aztecs) and the delightful alchemy of a concentrate of cow’s urine and mud (India).

Even 5000 years ago we had worked out that to get paint to go on smoothly we needed binding agents and thinners. The addition of lead and arsenic created durable, colour-fast paints that are still holding their own two-and-a-half-thousand years later. Not bad — just a bit of a pity that they were, and in some cases still are, completely toxic.

It wasn’t until as late as the 19th Century that some possibly bored, almost certainly female (but don’t quote me on that) colour obsessives had the synapse spark that resulted in using paint to cover walls decoratively in the way that has become standard in modern times. Around then, an entrepreneurial outfit called Sherwin Williams began manufacturing paints for architectural applications — and an industry was born.

Nowadays paint is a diverse creature. We paint everything from spaceships to roller skating rinks, with specialised paint applications available for almost anything you can think of. And it’s a grubby business. An environmental black sheep. Packed with heavy metals and VOCs, paints throughout history have behaved like your worst two-faced friend — all smiles and charm on the face of it but with a dangerous, secret, poisonous edge.

Luckily, the paint industry appears to continually evolve. Now, faced with evidence of the damage that standard paints can cause and a need to lessen the environmental impact of their manufacture, companies such as Australia’s ecolour are emerging as the new winners.

ecolour’s paints are completely non-toxic and have achieved carbon-neutral accreditation by recycling and re-refining waste engine oil into a water-based paint — a first in paint evolution. This oil acts as a preservative and provides durability, superior coverage and smooth application qualities to the paint, which allows it to behave in exactly the same way as any other premium acrylic paint — just without the carcinogens and pollutants … From cow’s urine to ecolour! That’s quite a journey. For more information, visit

Publish at: , last modify at: 30/06/2013

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