Press Release

February 2018


In an ever increasingly competitive marketplace, paint companies are looking for different ways to promote their products. This includes highlighting the environmental or green credentials of their products. One criteria that has been used as a differentiator is the Volatile Organic Compound (VOC) content of paint.

Richard Phillips, Chief Executive Officer of the Australian Paint Manufacturers’ federation, states that “VOCs are volatile organic compounds that can be naturally  occurring or can be made via a chemical process. Whilst the VOC content in modern water-based coatings may be very small, they still play an important role in enhancing its performance, including assisting the paint flow to enable an even coating coverage. It is also important for the customer to be aware of the true impact on the environment from painting, what VOCs mean and especially the questionable use of terms, such as ‘Zero VOC’ or ‘VOC free’”.

Paint is made up of a number of ingredients. Some are from naturally occurring substances such as minerals, clays and natural oils. Other ingredients include binder, pigments and additives which are synthetically derived from different chemical processes. All components need to undergo some degree of washing, refinement, processing or chemical treatment, so they can be successfully used to make paint. These production steps necessitate the use of different process aids, including  substances that are classed as VOCs.

Although every effort is made to remove these VOCs through drying and purifying, there will inevitably be trace amounts in the finished raw materials that are used to make the paint and tinting pastes that are needed to be used. Therefore, there is no such thing as a truly 100% VOC-free or Zero VOC paint, as all paints will contain very small trace amounts of VOCs through their raw materials.

There are several key contributors to the environmental footprint of household paint: The extraction/production of the raw materials; the cost of transporting paint from factory to retail outlet to your home; and how long the painted surface will last before it needs repainting, or how durable the paint film is. This last aspect is of particular interest – a durable long-lasting paint is much better for the environment.

Given that no paint is truly VOC free, the Council of the Australian Paint Manufacturers Federation agreed in 2017 not to use the term ‘Zero VOC’ or similar words in the promotion of paint products.

Richard Phillips also points out that unfortunately there are a very small number of paint suppliers persisting with the use of Zero/VOC-free claims for their products despite the industry’s best efforts to bring the issue to their attention. Terms such as “Low VOC” is an acceptable industry-wide term for paints with low levels of VOC.

Finally, many paints which claim “Zero VOC/VOC-free” credentials are based on natural clays and oils rather than synthetic binders, such as vinyl or acrylic. This has an impact on how resistant the paint film isto water or to damage. Generally, synthetic-binder based paints will provide a much more durable and resistant paint film, so would be expected to last longer than a clay paint. Thus, walls with these clay paints may need repainting more often and the clay paints would not score so well when viewed from an overall  environmental-footprint approach. Thus, perversely, ‘Zero VOC’ clay paints may actually be more harmful to the environment than standard synthetic-binder based paints, due to this increased maintenance cycle.

In conclusion, the message to consumers is to take a minute to consider and evaluate whether they’ve chosen the right paint for the job and that whatever claims associated with the product, especially regarding the impact on the environment, are accurate and can be justified.

Richard Phillips
Chief Executive Officer
Australian Paint Manufacturers’ Federation Inc.
MOB 0409 986 113