Eco friendly wall coverings

Eco friendly wall coverings

How environmentally friendly is wallpaper? If 'not very' is the answer...which it is.. what products can be used to make our walls green and interesting company? Kay Hill investigates

Wall tiles made from recycled paper by US' MioCulture, £32 for 12 tiles, plus shipping

It may come as a blow to find that many wallpapers are neither compostable nor recyclable. So if you want it, be sure you really really want it and are prepared to live with it for years. But there are interesting eco surface coverings coming on stream, such as recyclable 3D tiles and panels, which are easy to apply and can be painted. Pictured above: PaperForms recycled paper tiles by Jamie Saim for US brand Mio Culture. £32 for 12 + shipping.

According to the British Coatings Federation wallpaper sales are increasing rapidly, with growth of up to 11 per cent a year being reported.
So is wallpaper harmless biodegradable nothing-nasty-to-worry about paper? A lot of us labour under the illusion that it is, but many products on sale are problematic environmentally because they aren't recyclable, so will ultimately be destined for landfill.
First the good news - wallpaper isn’t the health hazard it once was. Napoleon is believed to have died after being poisoned by his wallpaper while in exile on St Helena, as bacteria living in the flour-and-water paper paste reacted with arsenic in the ink to create poisonous gas. And before the late 1970s, vinyl papers contained asbestos, putting at risk of mesothelioma those who cut it regularly. Thankfully these days any health risks are minimal. 
Vanessa Arbuthnott's wallpapers are traditionally printed on FSC-certified paper using water-based inks. They have a non woven base and can be recycled as paper, but not composted.
Northeasterly wallpaper from hand-pulled screen printers Bold & Noble, £55 per roll.  Product should be compostable because the design is printed using water-based inks on to fibrous paper.

Above: Vanessa Arbuthnott's wallpapers are traditionally printed on FSC-certified paper using water-based inks. £48 per roll. They have a non woven base and can be recycled as paper, but not composted. Above right: Northeasterly wallpaper from UK hand-pulled screen printers Bold & Noble, £55 per roll.  Product should be compostable because the design is printed using water-based inks on fibrous paper. Below: for elegant wood panelling at a fraction of the cost of solid wood, finepanel's easy-fit UK-made panels are made from thin Medite FSC-cert MDF, made with 70% wood from Medite’s own forests and 30% from other sources – typically recycled. Rround £40 m2. Below right: For texture and a richly rustic aged look, reclaimed teak mosaic wall panels by Indigenous, is a remarkable wall covering, POA. Second row down, left: Feel, fabulous recycled glass mosaic 'wallpaper' from Italy's Trend. Right:  Wall Art in Holland transforms bagasse, the fibrous waste left when cane is turned into sugar, into funky modern wall panels. These 3D tiles are compostable. Third row down, right: exuberant Yellow Tulip biodegradable fabric wall decal by the fabulous California company WallFlower, from £80. Shipping to UK available.

UK made easy-fix very low formaldehyde MDF wall panels, around £40m2, from Kent based Fine Panel.
Magnificent reclaimed teak wall mosaic by the UK's Indigenous
Feel wallpaper from Italian brand Trend is made from tiny squares of mosaic glass, some of which is recycled glass.
WallArt surface coverings are made from bagasse, a waste material from sugar cane production. Ellipse design 50x50 cm squares
Wall stickers or decals are becoming very popular. Yellow Tulip by US brand Wallflower is printed on biodegradable fabric and you can move it around easily from wall to
Eco Willow Green wallpaper by Lancs-based Arthouse uses a mix of recycled and FSC-cert paper and water-based inks.
Surface View has an impressive library of images that can be digitally printed to size on panels of sustainable and recyclable birch ply.
If you look closely at labels you’ll notice many products are actually called “wallcovering”, for the very good reason that there is a lot in them besides just paper.
The most common type, vinyl paper, is paper with an acrylic coating, a plastic derived from petrochemicals. This coating makes it resistant to moisture and makes removal easier as it will peel off in complete strips. Acrylic 'papers' may also be fabric backed – with either a proper woven fabric, or a non-woven textile made from pulped cellulose (non woven papers are considered higher quality).
For the consumer, acrylic paper is easy to work with and more durable than non-plasticised papers; but the coating means it can’t be recycled and it doesn’t biodegrade. It also contains carcinogenic vinyl chloride and sometimes formaldehyde, although manufacturers claim that these cannot be released into the atmosphere so are not a health risk.
So what's good for the walls?
There are plenty of options that are kinder to the environment than vinyl-coated wallpapers.
A straightforward paper wallpaper will be biodegradable, providing it doesn’t have artificial coatings on it. Bold & Noble has a wallpaper range with its designs screen-printed onto fibrous paper. It's not been officially-certified by any organisation but the company that makes it asserts it can be composted.


Paperboy's FSC-certified papers have no acrylic coatings and are recyclable. £60 per 10m roll.
US brand Pop & Lolli makes recyclable, repositionable fabric decals, great for nurseries. £52 plus shipping
Los Angeles' based Madison & Grow wallpaper is compostable. The paper is coated with clay and the designs are hand screen printed.
New York's Trove.
Surface View digitally prints onto canvas using non toxic inks. From £60m2.
Wallpaper O by London's JiB Design uses FSC-certified paper and organic pigment inks. But it's not recyclable.
Strips of old newspaper are woven and given a paper backing to form a wall covering. By Germany's Weitzner.
Cover your walls with birch ply printed with an visual you like. Pictured here is Clematis Powder Blue by Michael Angove from Surface View. From £175
Recycled paper 3D wall panels painted pink, from US brand MioCulture, £32 for 12 plus shipping.
Eco-conscious British textile designer Vanessa Arbuthnott has expanded her wall covering collection and offers products traditionally printed in the norht of England using water-based inks on FSC-certified paper with a non-woven backing. While not compostable, her papers have no acrylic coating and can be recycled as paper. (note you should use an eco-friendly wallpaper paste such as Eco from German natural paint company Auro.)
For beautiful and very eco wallpapers, try Los Angeles-based Madison & Grow - which ships to the UK. Its pretty papers are coated with clay and are hand screen-printed using non toxic water-based inks - and the resulting papers can be composted or recycled as paper at the end of what should be a long life.
If you're going to use wallpaper, choose a pattern you can live with for years. And many niche designer brands do use FSC or PEFC-certified papers and water-based, non-toxic inks, so the materials themselves are pretty eco-friendly even if not all products are recyclable due to their backings.
Arthouse in Lancashire uses a mix of recycled and FSC-certified paper in its Eco Divine range of wallpapers as well as water-based ink; all of Paperboy’s funky modern wallpapers aimed at boys and teenagers are printed on FSC paper, have no acrylic coatings and can be recycled.
Woven and recycled papers, and natural grass wall coverings
As well as flat papers, woven paper can also be used for wallpaper, such as German company Weitzner’s Shifu paper or woven papers from London's Urbane Living.
Recycled paper is even better, if you can find it – check out the exciting PaperForms tiles made from recycled paper by Jamie Salm for New York's MioCulture (they're happy to ship to the UK).
Weitzner uses recycled newspapers to make its fabulous Newsworthy paper, made from strips of old newspapers woven onto a paper backing, while recycled maps get the same treatment in Around the World.
Natural grasses have long been woven to form wall coverings, such as grasscloth, and you can find excellent products at high-end Altfield in London's Chelsea Harbour Design Centre, and at Urbane Living, which has papers made from paper made from sisal grass, bark, jute, seagrass and arrowroot.
Urbane Living MD Adam Robertson: 'We look at products holistically; we focus on using natural sustainable materials but also at how it supports local economies. A lot of our products are made in developing countries, supporting traditional skills and providing employment in places such as Uganda.'


Gypsy Garland UK-made printed wallpaper from Vanessa Arbuthnott can be recycled as paper. £52 per 10m roll.
Horsey paper for kids from Louise Body. She uses FSC-certified paper and non toxic water-based inks, £84 per 10m roll, 70cms wide.
Reveal bamboo panels from Smith & Fong, POA.
Natural Seagrass wall covering from Urbane Living, around £26.50 per m2.
Green Butterfly fabric decal from Wallflower is biodegradable but it should like a lot longer than the real thing. From £57 plus shipping.
Farrow & Ball's Chromatic Stripes is painted on FSC-certified paper. £60 per 10m
Wood can be used in numerous ways, such as wood panelling. If you think that latter would be too expensive, you'll be surprised by the affordability, good looks and how easy it is to fit and paint the ready-made MDF panelling of Kent-based finepanel. It's made from Medite FSC-certified MDF, made with 70 per cent wood from Medite’s own forest. People tend to use it to dado rail height in hallways or dining rooms for a look that's classic yet contemporary, and it's a great choice if you have walls that aren't in perfect nick as it hides imperfections. 
If using solid wood panelling, the greenest option would be reclaimed timber if possible, such as the teak wall panels salvaged from old fishing boats available from UK surface covering specialists Indigenous
Fabric and wall decals
We don't see fabric-clad walls much these days, but a skilled decorator can stretch almost any hardwearing fabric over battening to create a bespoke finish – you could specify an organic cotton or hemp, for example. Alternatively, plain canvas (a fabric made from biodegradable and natural cotton, linen or hemp) or cotton hopsack can be used as the backdrop for ready-made decorative wall panels from companies such as Surface View, which digitally prints images onto a variety of materials including fabric and sustainable birch ply.
Tom Pickford at Surface View says its wall hangings and canvases use friendlier inks such as UV and water-based inks, 'the majority of which are certified to the Nordic Swan Environmental Standard. We've worked with suppliers and partners to explore new greener options such as printing with water-based dyes which are harmless, odour free and produce no VOCs.'
Polyester fabrics, such as those used by US company Pop&Lolli for its fun, family wallpapers and wall decals, are not biodegradable, but do offer extreme longevity as well as recyclability; while California-based Wallflower offers very striking photographic decals on biodegradable fabric which can be moved around easily and without wall damage.
In fact, wall decals or stickers are proving increasingly popular because they're getting more attractive and innovative in terms of design, they're easy to use and don't have to be a permanent fixture in your home.
Sugar cane
It might seem like an unlikely source of wallpaper, but Dutch company Wall Art has found a way to transform bagasse, the fibrous waste product left when cane is turned into sugar, into modern wall panels. Not only are the contemporary 3D tiles made entirely of a waste product, but they are compostable.  
Unusual textures and finishes
Companies are doing exciting things with recycled glass and even recycled polystyrene. At Italian company Trend, for example, its Feel wallpaper is made from tiny squares of mosaic glass, made from 78 per cent post-consumer recycled content, mainly from glass bottles. Back at Urbane Living, its Granite wallpaper is not made from stone, but finely shredded and coloured recycled polystyrene.
And given the right conditions, acrylic wallcoverings can be recycled, but very few companies are doing so. One of the firms doing so is Trove in New York, with its Redeux wallcovering. The breathable, washable wallcovering contains 31 per cent post-consumer recycled materials, is free from plasticisers, phthalates, formaldehyde, chlorine, halogens, and heavy metals, and is printed with water-based inks and adhesives. Trove, which ships to the UK, will also collect Redeux waste from its US customers for reuse and recycling.
So, perhaps the time has come to turn away from vinyl papers and ideally choose wall coverings that won't end up in landfill.