Bold, Eco Friendly Wallpaper for 2021
Considering the safety and health of one’s home is an important element of caring for one’s personal health and safety. Many elements found within the home can be harmful -- from unsteady furniture to off-gassing carpeting. Building materials, house paint, flooring and even some drapes and curtains can contribute toxic chemicals to one’s home environment, which should be a sanctuary rather than a source of stress. For more information about chemicals found in homeware, follow to Living Deep’s article “3 Dangerous Toxins Found in Fast Furniture and Homeware.” Unfortunately, some wallpapers on the market today -- from the wall covering itself to the paste used to apply it to the wall -- can be toxic for inhabitants, particularly young children and those with respiratory issues. Furthermore, many wallpapers are not biodegradable, thus contributing to the massive mountains of debris in our landfills when they have been removed from a home’s walls. Thankfully, according to the Wallcoverings Association, the majority of wallpapers made within the USA are no longer imbued with the many harmful chemicals which were once common in wall coverings. Some manufacturers and designers are turning away from destructive practices and embracing eco friendly wallpaper.
Wallpaper of the past often contained “heavy metals such as lead, mercury, chromium or cadmium,” which were damaging to the environment and potentially to the health of residents of the home. However, some manufacturers operating today do shirk government-mandated or recommended health and safety measures, necessitating that consumers take a conscious and careful approach to choosing wallpaper for their homes. On the other hand, notes the “Environmental Issues” brief by the WA, “many manufacturers are introducing and developing additional environmentally-friendly substrates in the manufacture of wall coverings.” These sustainable approaches to creating eco-friendly wallpaper include designing wallpapers made from “harvested wood pulp from managed forests.” They also include choosing water-based adhesives and producing vinyl products more efficiently with less petroleum. Follow below to learn more about the issues posed by some wallpapers as well as more about the eco-friendly wallpapers available today.
Historic Health Issues with Wallpaper
Arsenic and Illness
As Haniya Rae wrote in a 2016 article for The Atlantic, in the pre-regulation era, “poison was everywhere,” particularly within the home. Rae noted in her article that “slightly over a century ago...arsenic, the notorious metalloid, was used in all sorts of products.” However, the toxic chemical -- exposure to which can cause gastrointestinal issues, paralysis, blindness and cancers -- was found “primarily in the inks and aniline dyes of beautifully printed wallpapers and clothing,” explains Rae. Rae evokes Charlotte Perkins Gillman’s narrator in “The Yellow Wallpaper” to provide context for the prevalence of such everyday toxicity expected in the home during this period. Haniya Rae writes that Gilman’s main character “descends into madness and believes the source of her illness stems from the wallpaper in the room.” Though Gilman’s character cites behavioral changes, hallucinations and her reactions to the intense odor of the wallpaper, arsenic is typically odorless. It can, however, cause hallucinations -- as noted by the authors of “The Effects of Arsenic Exposure on the Nervous System,” published by University of Rochester Medical Center. Rodriguez, Jimenez-Capdeville and Giordano write that arsenic exposure can cause “nervous system disturbances such as polyneuropathy, EEG abnormalities and, in extreme cases, hallucinations, disorientation and agitation.”
Arsenic and Profit
Arsenic was favored in wallpaper production of the late 19th and early 20th century, amongst even those tied to the Arts & Crafts Movement, which focused on home health and safety, use of natural materials, importance of individuality and bolstering of labor rights. According to Allison Meier in a recent article for Hyperallergic, even founder of the Arts & Crafts Movement -- and a designer of wallpaper patterns that are still very popular today -- William Morris dismissed concerns over the toxicity of arsenic. Meier writes that Morris “overlooked the incredible hazards of the arsenic mine and the use of poison in his wallpaper.” He did so because “arsenic pigments...allowed for the mass production of newly vibrant and durable colors,” resulting in cheaper production and greater profits for Morris. Morris -- like some wallpaper manufacturers still producing the coverings today -- was sadly “unable to resist the huge profits of the industry.”
Dangers Posed by Modern-Day Wallpapers
In her August 2020 article ”Most Wallpaper is Toxic, These Ones Aren’t” for My Chemical-Free House, Corinne Segura notes that “newer wallpaper materials are far more complex and contain a lot more chemical additives than just paper and ink.” In her article, Segura -- described by the platform as “a Certified Building Biologist Practitioner with 6 years of experience helping people create healthy homes” -- references a 2010 study released by the Ecology Center. According to the Architect Magazine article from the same year -- “Eco Research Group Finds Harmful Chemicals in Vinyl Flooring, Wallpaper” -- the Center tested more than 2,300 samples of wallpaper “containing PVC coatings.” Of these samples, “more than half contained such hazardous chemicals as lead, cadmium, chromium, tin, and mercury.” Phthalates and toxic flame retardants were also commonly found in the wallpapers tested.
Segura writes that these chemicals are still extremely common in wallpapers -- even ten years after publication of the Ecology Center study. She notes that “the vast majority of wallpaper is coated in PVC/vinyl, which contains harmful plasticizers that are not counted as VOCs or measured in certifications like Greenguard Gold.” Furthermore, writes Segura, “fifteen percent of wallpapers tested by the Ecology Center contained Brominated Flame Retardants.” BFRs are considered to be fairly toxic and harmful, staying in the body for long periods of time. Today, “intumescent flame retardants” are more common and -- according to the publication “Advanced High Strength Natural Fibre Composites in Construction” -- are much safer. According to S. Fu, P. Song and X. Liu -- the authors of said publication -- IFRs are considered “to be one of the most promising eco-friendly flame retardants because of their advantages of relatively high efficiency, low smoke, and low toxicity.” Other solvents, however, are commonly found in the adhesives and inks of modern wallpaper, so the battle has not yet been won. Each of these chemicals and the consequences of exposure to said chemicals should be considered when purchasing vintage wallpaper -- or even those produced before 2010.
What to Look for When Buying Eco Friendly Wallpaper
In her article ”Most Wallpaper is Toxic, These Ones Aren’t” for My Chemical-Free House, Corinne Segura outlines a few things to look out for when purchasing wallpaper for one’s home. She suggests searching for patterns and colors achieved through water-based ink, which “is preferable to solvent-based ink,” the latter of which “is likely to be higher in VOCs.” Segura also recommends looking for wallpapers “labeled with the GREENGUARD certification.” According to the UL GREENGUARD fact sheet, “products that have achieved GREENGUARD Certification are scientifically proven to meet some of the world's most rigorous, third-party chemical emissions standards.” Adhering to these standards means each certified product helps “reduce indoor air pollution and the risk of chemical exposure, while aiding in the creation of healthier indoor environments.” Lastly, Segura recommends seeking out wallpapers free of PVCs, flame retardants and toxic metals. We suggest peel and stick wallpaper that does not necessitate the use of harmful solvents to remove. Ideally, the adhesive used in these peel and stick wallpapers should also be biodegradable, so the paper can be safely tossed out or even recycled!
Our Top Five Choices for Eco-Friendly Wallpaper
#1 Versa Wallcoverings from Versa Designed Surfaces
In her article “Sustainable Wallpaper: Where Healthy & Beautiful Wallcoverings Meet” for Rise, Laura Bourland recommends Versa wallpaper. She notes that “Versa Designed Surfaces is a leader in sustainable wall coverings.” Each wallpaper offered by Versa meets “the highest sustainability standards, including NSP/ANSI 342 and the CE Mark, which are low VOC and use water-based inks.” Many of the company’s wall coverings are also made from recycled materials, with some boasting as much as 20% of their overall makeup.
According to the Versa website, “Versa Wallcovering is the only brand manufacturing base film in the U.S. from raw materials.” Versa “recycles ink and manufacturing waste, and has reduced energy by improving our operational processes.” Some of their PVC-free wall coverings feature ink derived from hemp! For something graphic yet peaceful, we recommend the “Beacon Hill” print in “Earth.” For maximum environmental care, we recommend “Balliano” in “Sable.” Versa’s Balliano wall covering meets the low VOC requirements of CA01350 while also meeting the low emissions “LEED Criteria For EQc2.”
#2 Essential Roots Collection from Burke Decor
Luxury decor and finishings company Burke Decor has long been a favorite of interior designers around the country -- particularly in LA. Featured consistently in the pages of Architectural Digest and Dwell Magazine, Burke Decor’s homeware is a favorite of many. Though not every collection nor piece offered by Burke Decor is sustainably produced, the Essential Roots Collection of wall coverings is. According to their product descriptions, “the Essential Roots collection offers a beautiful assortment of natural handcrafted wall coverings.” Burke Decor’s Essential Roots wall coverings are made from “handcrafted natural fibers” derived from abaca, bamboo, banana bark and fine arrowroot.”
Others include jute and hemp -- both of which are fast growing, pest-resistant and durable. Our favorite designs from Burke Decor’s Essential Roots Collection include the Banana Bark and Paper Twine Wallpaper, Sisal ER123 Wallpaper and the Abaca ER112 Wallpaper. The organic shades and textures of Burke Decor’s Essential Roots Collection of wall coverings fit in perfectly with this year’s natural materials interiors trend.
#3 Vintage-Inspired Wallpapers from Spoonflower
In her article ”Most Wallpaper is Toxic, These Ones Aren’t” for My Chemical-Free House, Corinne Segura recommends Spoonflower’s wallpaper. The company sells wallpaper that is made with water-based inks and which is absent of all “formaldehyde, phthalates and PVC” coatings. The company offers both peel and stick and non-pasted wallpapers, the latter of which are fire-rated while the former of which are not. Spoonflower’s patterns are whimsical and special, created by independent artists and printed ethically by the company. We love the Art Nouveau Poppy Red Wallpaper from Bamo Kreativ.
Not only is this print vibrant and stunning, but it also corresponds to a major design trend this year, which focuses on the revival of natural yet stylized elements from the Art Nouveau period. Spoonflower’s Art Nouveau Poppy Red Wallpaper is “eco-friendly, Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified, formaldehyde-, phthalate-, and PVC-free.” For something a bit more retro and mod, we recommend “Mid Century Kaleidoscope” from painter and illustrator Cecilia Mok.
#4 Peaceful Patterns from Madison and Grow
Allison Lind recommended Madison and Grow in a recent article for The Spruce, and we could not agree more with her endorsement. Lind notes that the company “ensures that each of their suppliers adheres to at least one of the globally recognized responsible forestry or chain of custody programs.” These include the Forestry Stewardship Council -- mentioned above -- and the “Sustainable Forestry Initiative.” Any leftover paper created as a byproduct of manufacturing Madison and Grow’s wall coverings is “reclaimed by the agricultural industry for use as nutrient-rich compost or animal bedding meaning nothing goes to waste.”
Madison and Grow describes their wall coverings as designed “for a more thoughtful home.” We love Madison and Grow’s “Calliope” print in “Olive Grove” from their California Collection. The Calliope print is “hand screened olive and metallic gold on a warm white ground.” Another favorite is their Sonoma Collection “Sophia” print in “Sea Glass.” This print “is a warm, bright and elegant wallpaper...hand silk screened in Los Angeles with a custom metallic gold ink on a sea glass green ground.”
#5 Sea and Space Prints from Aimee Wilder
Our final favorites come from designer Aimee Wilder. Described by Laura Gaskill in a recent article for Houzz, Wilder’s wallpapers are “fresh, colorful and modern, with a graphic design–inspired sensibility.” Each wallpaper designed by Wilder is “silk-screened by hand on clay-coated paper made from responsibly sourced fibers.” The studio also “salvag[es] leftover ink,” allowing Wilder and her team to “keep waste to a minimum.” Though Wilder’s studio produces a number of designs -- from graphic cityscapes to loud animal prints -- we prefer her modern stripes. Our favorites here at Living Deep include “Earthlight” in “Basalt” -- a pattern which traces the moon’s phases in crisscrossing stripes -- and “Anemone” in Assam.