Have you ever thought about what happens to your paint after a day of shooting in the woods? Backyard paintballing is fun, inexpensive, and often more laid-back than games played on a dedicated field. However, playing in the woods does have its drawbacks. On top of lacking versatile cover, buildings, and players, woodsball and other impromptu matches also leave behind quite the mess. Unless you enjoy spending hours wiping paint off of bark, that paint ends up sitting there for a long time.
Thankfully, under most circumstances, you shouldn’t be concerned about leaving paint splotches behind after a day in the woods. Both the paint and shell components of most reputable brands are biodegradable and non-toxic. They may take a while to disappear completely, but they probably will not be harming anything until they do. However, things can get a bit more complicated than that bit of quick advice.
Making Sure your Paintballs are Biodegradable
If you buy high-quality paintballs like the Valken Graffiti, then you need not worry about environmental impacts. Reputable manufacturers ensure that all their ingredients and manufacturing processes are environmentally safe. Without these strict controls, they could face lawsuits and boycotts from people who are rightly concerned about forest ecosystems’ destruction. Even budget paint from a company like Valken or Empire should be fully biodegradable.
However, not every paintball used in America is forest-friendly. Some people buy paintballs from unreliable retailers and manufacturers based in China and other foreign countries. In addition to having poor accuracy and reliability, this sort of paint may be environmentally destructive. Chinese paints often include lead and other contaminants that, while cheap, are neither safe nor biodegradable. Since foreign countries also have fewer laws about advertising, some off-brand paint may be marketed as biodegradable when it is not.
Using low-quality paint can damage your local ecosystems. In addition to paint splotches that take a long time to fade, the metals used in many paint products can poison plants and animals. If you want to keep your backyard paintball spot vibrant and enjoyable, do not use off-brand paint. I always buy name-brand paint even for testing, target practice, and other low-intensity uses.
How Long do Shells and Paint Take to Degrade?
The length of time required for a paintball to be fully reclaimed by the environment depends on many things. First is the specific product – paintballs with certain shell materials (such as wintertime paintball products) may take more or less time to degrade than others. Generally speaking, it takes a few months for most paintball shells to degrade, provided they land in a lush area with plenty of moisture and humidity. A shell that falls in a dry or barren environment may take years to degrade.
Paint is a slightly different story. Paintball filling is primarily composed of water, which evaporates quickly once the shell breaks. The materials left behind include dyes and organic compounds, which typically degrade at different rates. Bacteria and fungi may feed on one component of the paint while being unable to digest other parts of it. The speed at which paint degrades can be highly variable, but the dyes are the last ingredient to be reclaimed in many cases. Usually, most of the filling degrades after a few months, while traces of pigment remain for years. So, if you see old splotches of paint on a tree, rest assured that the colors you see are only a small trace of what hit initially.
Does Biodegradable Paint Hurt the Environment?
If you are like me, you might still fret about how your game could be impacting the nature around you. Some biodegradable products, such as paper straws, have received flak for being destructive even though they are theoretically biodegradable. Paintballs from reputable companies are mostly harmless to the environment, but certain damages can still occur. For example, if a paintball lands in a stream or pond, it could harm aquatic organisms (even though the materials are all non-toxic for land animals). However, so long as you take all your gear and trash back to civilization with you, your day of paintballing should have little to no effect on the backyard ecosystem.
Other parts of your paintball loadout can have broader impacts. Paintball grenades, for example, may contain chemicals that do not degrade quickly in nature. Repeated exposure to these compounds can cause a tree to slowly grow ill and die. I recommend avoiding grenades for woodsball games unless you know for sure that the materials inside of them cannot damage the local environment.
Be careful with off-brand paintballs. On top of being terrible to shoot, they can have a host of environmental concerns. If you take my advice and only use paint from trusted brands like Empire or Valken, you need not worry about messing up your local woods.