What's in Your Palette?

Some art supplies contain environmentally harmful ingredients, notably naturally occurring heavy metals such as lead, cobalt, cadmium, and manganese, and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). So, how can you express yourself creatively while protecting the environment?

Know what you’re buying. The federal government requires that hazardous art supplies be labeled as such. In addition, the Art and Creative Materials Institute (ACMI) has developed two supplemental labels to help guide your purchasing decisions:

AP (Approved Product)—Indicates that the product contains no materials in sufficient quantities to be toxic. The ACMI website lists all products bearing this label.

CL (Cautionary Label)—Indicates that the product contains toxic substances but is fully tested and sufficiently labeled with warnings and safe use information.If a product’s ingredients are not listed on the label, consult the manufacturer’s material safety data sheet, which lists toxic ingredients and provides guidance on spill cleanup and waste disposal. You can request an MSDS directly from the manufacturer or search the online MSDS database maintained by United Art and Education.

You can also find suitable alternatives.
Paint—In general, water-based paints (watercolors, tempera, acrylic, gouache) are the best choice. They contain fewer VOCs and don’t need chemical solvents for cleanup. Choose paint colors made from organic pigments such as madder (red) and indigo (blue).

Paint thinner—If water-based paint won’t meet your artistic needs, use citrus-based solvents (BioShield Natural Citrus Thinner is an example) in place of turpentine and mineral spirits to thin paints and clean brushes.

Crayons—Many crayons are made from petroleum-based paraffin wax. Soybean oil- and beeswax-based crayons provide environmentally friendly alternatives.

Inks and markers—Water-based and varnish-free products are a good choice for illustrators and calligraphers because they contain fewer (or no) VOCs.

Paper—Choose paper products (including mat and mounting boards) that contain the highest percentage of post-consumer recycled content. Tree-free papers made from kenaf, cotton, hemp, and other natural fibers can also be used.

When the time comes to dispose of these materials, check your local waste regulations. Some products might be considered hazardous waste and cannot be thrown out with the trash.

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