How Bad Is Acrylic Paint for the Environment?

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There are very few artists and DIYers who are not fond of acrylic paint when working on their projects. However, few people know about its ingredients and its environmental impact. Now, you might be thinking, How Bad Is Acrylic Paint for the Environment?

Acrylic paint is a plastic based paint, meaning the tiny molecules it is made up from are all plastic. While this means the paint is smoother and dries easily, it can end up damaging the environment if not careful.

The Basics on Acrylic Paint

Normally, water based acrylic paint that has no added pigments in it is nontoxic and safe for people to use. However, it harms the environment. When the paint dries, it releases a substance named propylene glycol into the air. This can pollute the air and water system.

Some acrylic paints contain heavy metals such as cadmium, lead, chromium, and cobalt. All these may cause harm to your health if ingested or released into the air. On top of that, the number of chemicals used in the acrylic paint mean that it is not biodegradable. Thereby it further harms nature.

Now, all these points are valid for industrial and home painting users. The sanding done on these projects can release millions of plastic particles in the sea and air. But if you are only painting on small DIY projects and artworks, then the damage is negligible.

But you can still eliminate this impact altogether by disposing of the materials in a proper way, as we will discuss in a later section.

How to Keep Your Workplace Safe?

It is important to ensure that the workplace is safe from all sorts of toxins. Hence, you should follow the instructions below –

Proper Ventilation

Proper ventilation is necessary to keep your health in check. If there is no way to get this polluted air out, especially in extreme temperatures, you will be breathing in harmful chemicals and causing harm to your body.

One of the most common ways to ensure proper ventilation is to keep the doors and windows open while working on your art project.

In case your studio space is small, and there are no extra windows, you can try installing a ventilation system. This might cost you a bit, but it will be better for you overall as it will filter out all the toxic chemicals.

Keep Solvents Closed

Solvents such as mineral spirits, turpentine, and citrus-based cleaners are needed to clean brushes, along with oils. However, they are notorious for causing severe problems when inhaling repeatedly. For that reason, you should try to open them as less frequently as possible. Also, keep them closed whenever you do not need them.

Wear Gloves

Wearing gloves should be a prerequisite while using acrylics. While buying gloves, look for nitrile-coated ones. These work the best for both oil paints and acrylic. Make sure that the gloves are comfortable and breathable and do not cause any allergic reaction, as you might need to wear those for a long time.

Avoid Sanding and Spray Painting

You want to avoid transforming the dangerous pigments of acrylic paint into the environment as much as possible. However, most aerosols do exactly that. So does sanding a project done with this kind of paint. Therefore, avoid such things, or at least use proper safety measures. Use a spray-painting glass panel and wear a mask to spray paint safely. The mask should be worn during sanding as well.

Use Better Alternatives

Yep. Sounds naggy. But at this point, I don’t know all the better options. When I learn of something particularly harmful to the environment if repeated several times, I try to adapt my carbon footprint. However, I also have a budget so I balance out where I can win and when not based on what I know. I digress. One of the best ways to stop exposing yourself to dangerous chemicals is by just using environmentally friendly alternatives as solvents as cleaners. Some painters swear by linseed oil and walnut oil as solvents. You might also try using vegetable oil to clean your brushes (my cooking oil actually has residue of oil-paint on the outside. My bad!).

Disposing Acrylic Paints and Oil Paints Safely

The foolproof way to keep acrylic paints from affecting the environment is by making sure that all waste materials are properly disposed of in an eco-friendly way. If you have an issue with chippings of paint and you want to reduce them, we already tried thisOpens in a new tab..

Usually, leftover acrylics create a form of sludge that is hazardous to the atmosphere. The same goes for the other art materials used. The proper way to get rid of paint sludge and rags is described below –

Paint Sludge

Flushing your paint sludge down the basin makes it easy for the pigments suspended to get into the water or the air. So, you need to take this sludge to a chemical disposal site after collecting it. Make sure to put the sludge in a plastic sealed container and screw the lid tightly so it does not get out even in the site.

For oil paint and water-mixable oils, you can let the solvent jar sit undisturbed for a couple of days. Then you will see that the sludge has formed at the bottom of the jar. For water based acrylic painters, the process is usually a bit slower and complicated.

You might wait until the acrylic polymer emulsion evaporates and leaves the leftover paint at the bottom. Another way named flocculation is quicker. This involves using aluminum sulfate and hydrated lime. When you mix these two in the water, the paint pigments form a sludge together that you can take out easily.

You do not need to drop the sludge off at the site every time you do a project. Instead, store the sludge in a plastic container and only visit the site once the container is full. Make sure to label the jar properly as a toxic chemical containerOpens in a new tab.. List the chemicals in the paints – such as cadmium and nickel — for added precaution.

Paint Rag

Paint rags and paper towels used to wipe excess paint need to be disposed of at chemical sites instead of your usual garbage bag. Do not just drop them off in any bag, however. Properly seal the bags and use warning labels that indicate what hazardous waste the bag contains.

Is Acrylic Paint Safe for Kids?

The good news is that you can find nontoxic acrylic polymers that kids can use without any hassle at all. However, make sure that you follow safety precautions –

Safety Tips

Ensure that the kids are wearing gloves before touching the paint. Keep in mind that non-toxic does not mean that this paint can be swallowed.

Yes, please. Don’t eat it.

 If you are worried about its potential dangers. There are many kid-friendly paintsOpens in a new tab. with the same pigments that you might try out instead

Tempera Paint

This type of paint is available in both solid form and water soluble form. Make sure to buy the liquid form only, as the powder can cause harm if inhaled. This is a particular favorite with the kids, as it does not take long to dry. The finishing can be either glossy or matte, depending on which kind you buy.

Watercolor Paint

You can find a wide variety of these in any store. However, these paints have pigments that take a long time to absorb and thus need a thick material such as cardboard paper or wood as the canvas.

Finger Paint

Finger paint often uses mineral based pigments. This paint’s consistency is quite creamy and does not spread everywhere. This also makes it easy to clean up.

Activity Paint

An activity paint is usually found in a gel form and paints wet. They are quite easy to clean up and stick on any surface easily.

Is Acrylic Paint Safe for Pets?

Most acrylic paints are not toxic for pets. If you own pets, especially cats or dogs, you must know what curious creatures they are. If you start painting suddenly, they will surely come around to inspect it.

In addition, their habit of licking everything new might put them in danger if they consume a large amount. If they have only licked or drank a small amount, there is not much to worry about.

Final Words

Now that you know all about acrylic paint, we hope that you won’t shy away from using it in your art. Just make sure to plan and follow our safety tips. You must properly dispose of all hazardous materials too to contribute to environmentally friendly practices.

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Caraca's self-taught artist based in the UK, Ines explores unconventional materials and sustainability.

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