Gallery: The Color Green is Toxic to People, Contaminates Recycling


Green is the color of nature, the environment and sustainability, but ironically the pigments used to create the color are not all that healthy or environmentally friendly. Many green pigments are actually quite toxic and even with modern dyes and pigments, green is still problematic. Michael Braungart, co-author of Cradle-To-Cradle and famous chemist, says, “The color green can never be green, because of the way it is made. It’s impossible to dye plastic green or to print green ink on paper without contaminating them.” So what are we to do with the chosen mascot color for sustainability and eco-friendliness?

Historically, green has been a difficult color to create – it often faded, degraded, and even burned holes through canvas. In the 18th and 19th century, green wallpapers and paints contained arsenic, which off-gassed toxic fumes and led to many deaths — possibly including Napoleon Bonaparte’s in 1821. Emerald green, also known as Paris green, was incredibly toxic and was at one point used to kill rats in Parisian sewers.

Many of the super toxic green pigments have been banned, but even the modern pigments are still environmentally unsafe. As Alex Rawsthorn of the NYTimes reports, Pigment 7, one of the most common shades of green used in plastic and paper, contains chlorine, which can cause cancer and birth defects. Pigment 36 contains potentially hazardous bromide atoms as well as chlorine, and Pigment Green 50, which is inorganic, contains a “noxious cocktail of cobalt, titanium, nickel and zinc oxide”. So having direct contact with the pigments is unsafe, and on top of that, the pigments make green plastics and paper difficult to recycle or compost, because they contaminate everything else. If what Braungart says is true, then perhaps it’s time to choose new team colors.


Lead Image ©Eric Begin Flickr


or your inhabitat account below


  1. Petros Bogeas July 31, 2010 at 7:30 am

    @ William Anjowski
    Hi William. Please contact me on my email I would like more info on the above discussion on color green etc.
    Thank you. Petros Bogeas

  2. Halli620 July 10, 2010 at 12:34 pm

    So should we not put green paper in the recycling bin? I read both this article and the NY TImes one, and neither one is clear on this.

  3. btrinklein June 7, 2010 at 1:17 pm

    The logic in this article is flawed. It is like saying that since chlorine gas can be used as a poisonous war gas, and sodium is a metal that will react with water by exploding, than compounds that contain these elements are toxic and should never be used. Of course, sodium chloride (or table salt, as it is better known) is generally considered to be safe.

  4. wanjowski June 4, 2010 at 6:51 pm

    This article contains comments regarding Pigment Green 7 & 50 which are incomplete or simply untrue.

    Also an inferred connection between Braungart’s discussion of some green pigments & those that are actually used today in printing inks, paints, & plastics is misleading & incomplete.

    Please take the time to read & research the actual toxicology of pigments used today in order to better understand the issues, or more correctly, lack of issues.

    Any chemist, myself included, would be happy to respond with additional information.

    William Anjowski

  5. knowandunderstand April 11, 2010 at 5:18 pm

    What about all the other colors? Is green the only color that is toxic?

  6. omariomario April 8, 2010 at 2:14 pm

    The “best green color” is the one you see on your computer screen! Good question though. I guess from the article, at least pigment 7 green seems to be the least harmful. I’ll have to research that.
    We are green at heart and that’s what really matters.

  7. climbergirl April 6, 2010 at 12:52 pm

    Which is the best “green” color, then?

get the free Inhabitat newsletter

Submit this form
popular today
all time
most commented
more popular stories >
more popular stories >
more popular stories >
Federated Media Publishing - Home