On the Walls: Eco-Friendly Wallcoverings

From sisal and bamboo to rice and parchment, there’s an environmentally friendly wallcovering with a price to fit any pocketbook.


| July/August 2005


Once upon a time, wallpaper was simply that—printed paper—applied to walls with a flour-based paste. In the mid-twentieth century, manufacturers added so-called improvements: vinyl and PVC, formaldehyde, chemical dyes, fungicides, and powerful adhesives. The “paper” went up with less effort, lasted longer, and even peeled off easier. The unfortunate byproduct, though, was volatile organic compounds (VOCs), toxic vapors from the solvents, plastics, paints, and glues that may cause headaches, dizziness, visual disorders, ­memory impairment, respiratory illness, and even liver or kidney damage, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Happily, a few manufacturers are coming full circle, eliminating the chemical additives and offering an array of natural or recycled materials and less toxic adhesives that offer wall-to-wall beauty.

ALL-NATURAL WALL: Renewable resources such as rice, sisal, bamboo, linen, grasses, wood, and cork are just a few of the beautiful options that create rich, diverse textures and are mostly biodegradable. If you choose wood, select a product that’s been certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (www.FSC.org).

WALL “PAPER”: Handmade paper, parch­­­ment, and rice paper are available in every pattern and color imaginable. Newer, greener options tout water-based inks without formaldehyde, heavy metals, PVC, or vinyl backing. (Avoid using paper-type wallcoverings in moist areas where mildew and mold can develop.)

RECYCLED: Polyester, cloth, and phone books are just two of the post-consumer materials being reused in innovative wallcoverings. Though not “natural,” they keep waste out of the landfill. Check with the manufacturer to ensure low VOC emissions and odors.

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