Maryland Green Purchasing

Paints and Coatings

Paints and architectural coatings may contain hazardous materials, such as heavy metals, and are at risk of improper disposal.  However, there are health- and environmentally-friendly paint/coating products that do not compromise quality. Please refer to the Green Purchasing Committee’s paints and coatings specification page, linked below. Some third party certifiers provide catalogs or examples of appropriate paints and brands.


When procuring paints and coatings, state agencies are encouraged to use products that are:

  • Low in Volatile Organic Compounds: Organic solvents in paints and coatings emit gaseous chemicals, known as volatile organic compounds (VOCs), during production and storage, as well as during and after application. In enclosed areas, exposure can cause health impacts.

The CDC publishes factsheets on various VOCs (including Xylene, Benzene, Toluene, Ethylbenzene, and Hexane) and health-related exposure risks and impacts.

There are now numerous low-and zero VOC paint options on the market.
  • Water-Based Paints: Water-based latex paints generally contain fewer toxic materials and VOCs than oil-based paints and do not require dangerous solvents for clean-up. 
  • Low in Heavy Metals and Preservatives: Lead and mercury have generally been eliminated in architectural paint. However, some manufacturers may use trace amounts of heavy metals like cadmium, which can leach into soil and water. Preservatives like formaldehyde — a known human carcinogen and respiratory irritant —​ are often added to paint, as are pigments (or colorants), which contain additional VOCs. 
  • Lighter Color: The addition of pigments may decrease the durability of paint. Light-colored paints not only contain fewer pigments (and thus fewer VOCs), but are more reflective, increasing the dispersion of light and potentially reducing the requirements for (and energy consumed by) artificial light.
  • Third-Party Certified: To mitigate risks associated with VOCs, heavy metals, preservatives, etc., choose paints that have been certified by Green Seal, UL Environment EcoLogo, UL Environment GreenGuard, Green Wise, Mapster Painter’s Institute, X-Green certified or included on the SCAQMD Super-Compliant List. For more information, please refer to the Paints and Coatings specification. 

Finally, remember to:
  • Properly Dispose of Unused Paint. Unused paint, along with its associated containers and application equipment, often winds up in the waste stream. Recycling paint can keep waste out of the landfill and reduce the need for further materials extraction.
    • Maryland Department of the Environment has published a fact sheet on household hazardous waste products and disposal.

    • Only Baltimore City residents can drop off their household hazardous waste at the Northwest Citizen Convenience Center. Businesses and commercial users must contract a private vendor for hazardous waste disposal; for those users, please review the Recycling Directory maintained by Maryland Recycles.

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