Environmental Effects of Graffiti

Graffiti is not only an eyesore. From cradle to grave, spray paint is an environmental and health hazard. It is an ongoing nuisance and recently, the LA City Council just approved $3.8 million dollars to remove graffiti from two high-rise buildings in downtown Los Angeles. Los Angeles County alone erases 30 million square feet of graffiti each year.

It’s not uncommon to see trees and rocks vandalized on popular hiking trails in Los Angeles. From cities to hiking trails, rain causes the paint to wash away, particle by particle. Spray paint, and paint in general, pollutes the soil and water with microplastics. Other than damaging the trees’ pores, spray paint also emits volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in the air, damaging the vandal’s lungs and polluting the air. The only safe way to use spray paint is using a respirator and a permitted spray booth. Long-term exposure to paint fumes can still cause a host of health problems, even with the right PPE. 

Graffiti removal often proves just as problematic as graffiti itself. CalTrans workers are frequently painting over graffiti, which again pollutes the environment with microplastics. Other removal tactics such as pressure washing and other cleaning agents cause water and soil pollution. Currently, there are no “perfect” environmental solutions to graffiti removal without some kind of environmental degradation.

It is illegal in California to dispose of spray paint cans in trash cans if they are not empty. Aerosol cans that are not empty must be sent to a designated “universal waste handler” facility for disposal. 

Parts of Los Angeles have seen a 300% increase in graffiti recently. Addressing these challenges requires a multifaceted approach, including promoting sustainable alternatives, researching preventative techniques, enforcing proper disposal regulations, and exploring eco-friendly graffiti removal techniques. By staying proactive, raising awareness, and implementing responsible practices, communities can mitigate the social and environmental impacts of graffiti.

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