The issue of dyes and pigments forms the crux of environmental toxicity in art production. Most reds, yellows, and oranges use cadmium, which is a highly harmful element. Additionally, blues, greens, and purples have their roots in cobalt, another toxic element. The toxicity of the coloring agents themselves pales in comparison to the mining needed to remove them from the earth in the first place, it is an extremely harsh process, resulting in destruction of habitats and loss of biodiversity. But, once again, these colors are an essential part of paint, dye, and ink production: no substitute can compare to the rich, vibrant colors created from these natural minerals. Attempts have been made to synthetically reproduce these colors with extremely limited success.
Of course, dyes are used for things other than art supplies, and recently it has been documented that the toxicity of the chemicals/minerals needed to make green pigments could very well put the other colors to shame. Most green dyes use chlorine (certain isotopes of which are toxic), cobalt, and even titanium to stabilize the color, which is very difficult to produce. This makes green-colored paper, glass bottles, or plastic difficult to recycle because their harmful chemicals can contaminate the enter recycling process. In a recent New York Times article, the writer suggests that this toxic color became a symbol for the early environmentalist movement to symbolize not only the green in nature, but the harmfulness than can result from its reproduction. Business owners, wanting to associate themselves with the hot topic of environmentalism began tagging their products as “green” to attract consumers, while in reality they’re misrepresenting their products with what is actually a toxic color.