Green Alternatives to Traditional Wallpaper

May 1, 2012 View all articles in Home

Wallpaper adds texture, bold print finishes, graphics, and intricate patterns to interior design that plain old paint just can't compete with. But unlike paint, wallpaper is made of the worst eco outlaw around: vinyl, or PVC. During the manufacturing process, vinyl creates dangerous dioxins, which are known carcinogens and possible hormone disruptors. Vinyl also contains heavy metals like lead and cadmium and, once it's applied, off-gases potentially hormone-disrupting phthalates throughout its lifetime. In addition, if you apply wallpaper in high-moisture areas, such as the bathroom, trapped humidity will welcome and breed mold over time.

The adhesives used to apply wallpaper aren't any better. They're usually a cocktail of volatile organic compound (VOC)-emitting chemicals. 

Now that you've heard all the bad news about wallpaper and wallpaper adhesive, here's some good news: there are green options. More and more designers are using wallpaper made of recycled paper, bamboo, cloth, linen, sisal, dried grasses, even cork, and without any pre-applied adhesives. Here are a few brands and designers you can consider when decorating or remodeling your home's interior.


  • Phillip Jeffries Ltd. is the industry leader in hand-crafted wall coverings, stocking more than 900 natural wall coverings including Japanese paper weaves, gold leaf, grasscloth, hemps, silks, linens, granite, and raffia, as well as many unique handcrafted specialties. Many of their natural plan fibers are rapidly renewable and harvested annually. And because most of their wall coverings are made with natural materials, they safely break down and return to nature. Their collections are also backed with 85 to 100 percent post-consumer recycled paper. The Phillip Jeffries Ltd. website has an eco chart of sustainability available for customers to view!
  • The Angela Adams collection for MDC, a leader in the wall covering industry, features casual and playful designs produced with water-based inks on 100 percent post-consumer paper and breathable, non-PVC vinyl that's Greenguard Certified for low-VOC emissions.
  • The paper used by London-based designer Louise Body is sourced from managed forests and printed with water-based inks. In addition, any waste from edge trimmings is taken to the local recycling center.
  • The wallpapers designed by Madison and Grow are manufactured with responsibly sourced, Forestry Stewardship Council (FSC)-certified fibers that are “elemental chlorine free.” In addition, their papers are designed for breathability to minimize mold and mildew growth, which is better for the air quality in your home. And 100 percent of the mill's short paper fiber is reclaimed and used in the agricultural industry for nutrient rich compost or animal bedding. Madison and Grow also uses an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) designated National Environmental Performance mill/supplier that creates approximately 50 percent of its electricity by low-impact hydroelectric generators.
  • Graham & Brown designs wallpapers printed on paper that comes from sustainable, Forestry Stewardship Council (FSC)-certified timber sources, and they use water based inks with no VOCs or solvents. Their packaging is made of corn and is entirely compostable.


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