In the world of wallcoverings, vinyl has dominated the scene for decades. When searching for a different way to cover your walls, it is worthwhile to explore the array of alternatives also on the market. There are many contenders comprising unique materials that pack a punch when it comes to sustainability. The information below highlights two types of vinyl alternatives—natural and thermoplastic olefin wallcoverings—and explores the benefits of both.
There are many bio-based alternatives to vinyl wallcoverings sourced from raw materials. Included among these are grass cloth—featuring fibers harvested from plants and grasses such as abaca and jute; sisal—known for its durability and sound absorption; and linen, which offers versatility and elegance as the oldest natural fiber. “All of our natural wallcoverings are made from bio-based vegetable or protein fibers,” says Luwam Yeibio of Maharam. “Because their content is rapidly renewable and sustainable, they have a minimal impact on the environment both in manufacturing and disposal.” Once harvested, these fibers can be dyed and laminated to a paper backing for dimensional stability. Cork offers another interesting alternative to wallcoverings made from raw materials. It can be stripped from the bark of a cork oak tree before being formed and laminated to a nonwoven substrate or paper. Aside from the intrigue created by their unique aesthetics, the enduring appeal of these natural wallcoverings comes from their use of readily renewable resources.
Thermoplastic Olefin Wallcoverings
Embedded with environmentally conscious attributes, thermoplastic olefin (TPO) is another option that has been broadly embraced for its durability. “TPO wallcoverings are free of plasticizers, chlorine, formaldehyde, heavy metals, and halogenated fire retardants,” says Yeibio. “They use only water-based inks and coatings while still meeting all the specification requirements of a Type II wallcovering under CCC-408D.” Moreover, TPO wallcoverings have the added benefit of being free of the harsh chemicals often associated with vinyl, such as polyvinyl chloride (PVC). “Carnegie has innovated around PVC-free materials since the early 1980’s,” says Cliff Goldman of Carnegie Fabrics. “Thermoplastic Olefin film wallcoverings meet or exceed the performance of PVC materials while avoiding the hazards of a halogenated (chlorine-based) materials. TPO wallcoverings are equivalent to vinyl wallcoverings without the environmental hangover.”
Though vinyl is valued for its ability to ensure that walls can withstand heavy traffic and abrasion, the advantages of the alternative wallcoverings outlined above include a range of environmental benefits. Embedded with an eco-awareness, their compositions can also create points of contrast and deliver a texturally inspired interior with an unexpected allure. With expertly manufactured materials, these alternatives meet many of the same standards as their less-sustainable counterparts.