There are millions of different tree species all over the world, with some of the most famous including oak, maple, sycamore, magnolia, cedar, and pine trees. the pine tree in particular is known to secrete a yellow sticky liquid, that acts like glue and is known as resin. The sticky substance occurs naturally in trees but is also synthetically manufactured.
Synthetic or man-made resin has become a popular material in décor and jewelry and you can either buy resin products or make your own. It has also been used to coat flooring or in adhesives and is now used by artists and creators. The popularity of the product, therefore, begs the question, is resin good for the environment? Stay tuned to find out.
Does Resin Harm the Environment?
Natural resin is harmless to the environment, but most synthetic resin products are not environmentally friendly. The natural one is exuded from trees, especially pines and firs and occurs as a result of injury to the bark from wind, fire, lightning, or other cause.
They are fusible and flammable organic substances and are soluble in various organic liquids except for water. The spirit-soluble kind has been used as healing agents, as solvents like turpentine, and as components of varnishes.
The oil-soluble kind has long been used to make soap, varnishes and the hardest natural resin has been fabricated into jewelry. Because they come from an organic source, trees, they are harmless to the environment.
Unfortunately, modern natural resins have been almost entirely replaced by synthetic resins, which are not so great with the environment.
The majority of these synthetic resin products are harmful to the environment and potentially release hazardous materials to the environment and water systems, especially when disposed of improperly.
Some types of resin have also been found to have adverse effects on animals and humans, such as carcinogens. However, since there are so many different types of resin out there, it is difficult to say whether all resins are bad for the environment or if only some are.
In fact, some environmentally aware manufacturers are beginning to combat this by releasing eco-friendly bio-resins. The major reason why the synthetic ones are harmful to the environment is that they are made from fossil fuels, and require the use of chemicals.
These chemicals have an irritating effect on the skin and when in contact with the eyes, and their vapor can have an impact on respiratory health.
Why is Resin Bad For the Environment?
Industrial synthetic resins are made from the cracking process where hydrocarbons are heated up to separate molecules. The polymer compounds are built to create a specific resin. Also, most casting resins used for resin art are synthetic resins made from chemicals.
The two major issues with this are the use of fossil fuels and the use of chemicals to make the resins. Chemicals can leech out to the environment, causing damage to the environment as well as polluting the soil and waters.
Fossil fuels, on the other hand, are responsible for the current global climatic quagmire we are facing today, global warming and climate change. Either way, they have a severe effect on the environment and human health.
The problem is further divided and understood based on the type of resin.
Polyester or fibreglass resin
This is generally the cheapest type of resin, although it is also the most toxic. Inhaling the fumes from this resin can cause respiratory problems, irritate eyes and skin, and its chemicals are water polluting.
Polyester resins are often made using styrene, which makes it possibly carcinogenic to humans. The resin is also highly flammable and should not be kept around too much heat, static, or sources of ignition. It must be disposed of as hazardous waste and avoid groundwater and drains to avoid contamination.
This is the most popular type of resin around. Unlike polyester resins which are quite malodorous and can release harmful gases, epoxy resins are primarily known for the harm they cause to human health. Breathing in vapors from epoxy resins can result in the development of asthma in people who are not using proper protection.
Chemicals used in the epoxy resin can also cause cancer and genetic mutations in animals, though newer products should have fewer carcinogens provided they do not use epichlorohydrin.
They can cause allergies and dermatitis especially after contact with the skin and is always more prudent to handle epoxy resins with gloves, goggles and protective clothing to prevent the risks of contact and splashing.
This is the more environmentally friendly version although this depends on the manufacturer. It can still pollute water via drains, the ground and watercourses and the relevant authorities should be informed of the environmental pollution.
Polyurethane is known to be a bit friendly to the environment in comparison to plastics, but it still releases carbon dioxide, one of the primary culprits of global warming.
The non-reactive variety
Artist resins can either be reactive or non-reactive. The non-reactive variety is dangerous because when mixed, they release volatile organic compounds (VOCs) during a chemical reaction and would leach over time. Putting cheap epoxy resin in water will make chemicals leach out of it. This is hazardous to your health and the environment.
Since these products are made from plastics, their biodegradability is also an issue. In fact, most of the resin is not biodegradable. This means that traditional resins could last in the environment forever, leeching chemicals and releasing carbon dioxide daily for hundreds of years.
However, there has been the introduction of biodegradable resins which are known to be 100% biodegradable and recyclable. They are also made from non-toxic and non-hazardous raw materials. These types of resins were only developed in 2011 and still have a long way to go. Let’s wait and see how that goes
These alternatives have only surfaced over the last few years, and are better than the traditional resin we are used to. If you are looking to craft with resin or resin-like materials, consider the sustainable alternatives.
Ecopoxy, for instance, is a bio-based, plant-based epoxy “resin” specifically and sustainably made for woodworking. Terra Cast resin is another sustainable option as all of its colors are made from mostly recycled materials and its black resin is made from post-consumer recycled materials.
Other environmentally safe alternative resins include hard plaster or concrete for those who are casting, alabaster, slush latex, or metal. However, despite their alternative nature, each material comes at some kind of cost and requires additional research.
How Long Does Resin Take to Decompose?
Synthetic resins are made from fossil fuels, meaning they will take forever to fully biodegrade. It is one of the reasons why they are not environmentally friendly and alternatives were developed.
Although the alternatives have been certified to be fully recyclable and biodegradable, not much has been said about the duration it will take for them to fully biodegrade. These contemporary resins are made from recyclables and are recyclable by themselves.
However, they are also meant to be extremely durable and can therefore last a long time before having to be recycled without harming any natural resource. All resources available are advocating for recycling rather than letting the biodegradable and environmentally friendly resin decompose.
It is therefore unclear how long it will take for the safe resins to decompose, although they can be recycled multiple times and converted into something new.
Is Resin Flammable?
Yes and No. The correct answer depends on the type of resin. As you can imagine, the natural resin from trees is not flammable. However, this does not mean if the tree was put ablaze that the resin will not burn, it will.
You do not imagine you can find resin lying around after a wildfire. They will burn up, but are not prone to the fire by themselves. Now let’s look into the man-made ones. Cured epoxy resin is not flammable and in fact, is fire-resistant.
However, the uncured one is flammable. Casting resin is flammable and so is polyester resin especially before curing. In fact, polyester resin has a low flashpoint of 35 °C (86 °F) and can catch fire quite easily.
This is much, much more flammable than epoxy and it means that on a warm day, the flashpoint is easily achieved, and any spark or flame could trigger a polyester resin fire.
Therefore, take extra caution when handling polyester resins. Also, never work with polyester resin around anything with an open flame or any kind of electrical equipment that might spark.
Polyester resin is highly flammable when wet, particularly if it is being cured with acetone, which is ridiculously flammable.
For epoxy resin to catch fire, it requires a higher temperature. This is why epoxy rein requires careful handling and those who use it know to work outdoors or in a well-ventilated space, as well as to mix the reagents away from naked flames.
When working with synthetic resins, also be sure to wear proper respiratory protection to protection to prevent you from inhaling the fumes, which are also toxic, as well as flammable. You should also be using a water spray to cool the containers with the resin in.
This reduces the chance of vapor pressure build-up in the containers and, hopefully, prevents any form of auto-ignition or explosion. Art resin, a form of epoxy resin, is also flammable especially before being mixed, although the curing agent will not be flammable.
Surprisingly, once mixed and after curing, it is not flammable. UV resin is a form of resin that cures in sunlight using UV light to drive the curing reaction and is neither flammable nor toxic.
Is Resin Environmentally Friendly?
This depends on the type of resin. Natural resin from the trees is organic and is perfect for the environment. Synthetic resin made using fossil fuels, as you can tell, is not environmentally friendly.
It requires the use of chemicals to treat which harm the environment and human health. It also continues the never-ending reliance on fossil fuels which are non-renewable and once used, release carbon dioxide and other gases that harm the environment.
Luckily, over the years, there has been the introduction of ‘green’ resins which are said to be environmentally friendly. They are made from plant-based substances as well as recycled and recyclable materials, making the end product environmentally friendly and non-toxic.
Unfortunately, compared to synthetic resins, the eco- or bio-resins are much more expensive because they are newer and require the use of much more expensive materials. Luckily as the technology for eco-resins develops, more manufacturers will see the benefit in selling this as their product and the price will lower.
However, be very wary of greenwashing companies that claim to have “non-toxic” resins instead of eco-resins. Greenwashing is a marketing practice of claiming to be more eco-friendly than they are.