Sustainable Adhesives, Fillers and Sealants

You’ve got low VOC content paint on the walls. The room is decked out with environmentally-preferable furniture, resting atop certified sustainable flooring. But what about the substance that (literally) holds everything together – adhesives?

Adhesives, fillers and sealants are typically used in large quantities for construction or interior design projects, and yet they can also be one of the most commonly overlooked materials in terms of their sustainability credentials.

These important products contain a variety of chemicals which hold things together, cover up surface imperfections, and keep moisture out. Unfortunately, some of those chemicals can pose a threat to human health and indoor air quality as they emit damaging fumes and odours.

Here’s our guide to buying better when it comes to adhesives, fillers and sealants!

Is it GOOD for people?

As with many other furnishings, fittings and building materials with an indoor application, volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are a big issue for adhesives. VOCs can trigger a range of health problems such as respiratory irritation, allergies, headaches and asthma. Formaldehyde, a known human carcinogen, is a particularly common VOC found in adhesives and resins, despite its toxicity to humans.

Crystalline silica is a component of soil, sand, granite and other minerals, and can be found in many household adhesive products. If adhesive products are chipped, cut, drilled into or ground up after they set, any crystalline silica present may be broken down into particles small enough to be breathed in. Without proper safety precautions, this can set up workers for silica exposure and silicosis, a lung disease that has no cure.

The potential health impacts don’t end there. Some residual monomers in polymers are allergenic or carcinogenic and should be avoided. Certain phthalates used as plasticisers in adhesives are also known to be endocrine disruptors. It’s also essential that toxic heavy metals, such as lead, cadmium, mercury, chromium, arsenic are not added to the final product or used in its creation. These substances can be detrimental to the health of manufacturing staff and users of the finished product.

Is it GOOD for the planet?

Adhesives can have a negative impact on the environment as well. Titanium dioxide, zinc oxide and lithopone are a few examples of compounds often found in adhesives and related building materials. Production of these compounds uses large amounts of energy and generates high volumes of waste, as well as resulting in air and water emissions that carry a negative environmental impact.

Without effective policies and procedures in place, discharge of waste water and damaging substances can threaten aquatic ecosystems. Improper storage of chemicals can also lead to environmental harm via leaks, spills and emissions to water and air.

How can I buy better?

We’ve taken the hard work out of finding adhesives, fillers and sealants that are better people and planet! When a product is certified against GECA’s Adhesives, Fillers & Sealants standard (AFSv4.0i-2014), you can be sure that the product has been assessed to meet environmental, human health and ethical impact criteria.

GECA certification removes doubt and confusion and makes identifying environmentally and socially preferable products easier. Products certified under our standard also contribute toward achieving credit points for projects being certified under the Green Building Council of Australia’s Green Star Performance tool.