‘Greener’ Showers Start with the Curtain

Photosource: designspongeonline.com

By Erin Dale

My mother recently replaced her shower curtain. I caught her carting the old one toward the trash. “Wait!” I cried. “Can’t you at least recycle that thing?” Shrugging, she said, “I doubt it, but it’s disgusting and needs to go.” I cringed. It’s going, all right… to its new home, the landfill. “I hope you at least replace it with a fabric one,” I said. “Oh, I already replaced it. I just bought the same thing again.” Livid, I groaned “Mom, I wish you’d talked to me first!”

Is a shower curtain really worth obsessing over? Consider this: most shower curtains are made from polyvinyl chloride (PVC), one of the nastiest of all consumer plastics. Producing it is energy-intensive, and the manufacturing releases carcinogenic dioxins and other harmful chemicals into the atmosphere. According to Christie Matheson in “Green Chic,” “About seven billion pounds of PVC are discarded annually in the United States and most recycling facilities won’t accept it, because recycling it is highly labor-intensive and potentially hazardous.” My town’s facility won’t take PVC; I checked.

So now my family has a brand new, perfectly smelly PVC shower curtain that will also get nasty and need to be tossed, and get even worse when it winds up in a landfill, leaching its harmful chemicals back into the ground… just like the last shower curtain, and all the others that have been innocently replaced over the years (see typical landfull below).

Florida landfill featuring plastics….photosource: static.flickr.com

The simple solution would have been to find an eco-friendly shower curtain, as there are plenty of options out there. However, this seemed too daunting for my mom. For some quick shopping tips, I found organic hemp shower curtains at rawganique.com.

According to this site, hemp is a durable and naturally antifungal and antibacterial materials for curtains. I’ve owned a few hemp products over the years (not a shower curtain, yet), and my only complaint is that the material tends to get ratty. I wonder how long it would take before I’d need to replace a hemp shower curtain? The good news is that, when I do need a new one, hemp is biodegradable.

Something less labor-intensive, perhaps, would be a curtain made from organic cotton. Cotton may not be as strong as hemp, but I’m sure it would wash a little easier (and it’s also biodegradable). Pristineplanet.com has a decent selection of organic cotton and hemp shower curtains, starting at $26 (nice) and going up to $139 (yikes!).

Matheson recommends gaiam.com for linen shower curtains. This would have to be my favorite choice; linen is always classy and gorgeous, and the site promises the curtain will last through many washings (for $59, one would hope so!). Linen is also more mildew-resistant than cotton.

For something tough that may never need replacing, try curtains made from pack cloth, a urethane-coated nylon fabric. Nylon, like PVC, has an energy-intensive manufacturing, but it will outlast a PVC curtain. Satara-inc.com boasts, “It may be the last shower curtain you ever own!” Theirs retails for $50, so purchasing one will definitely save money over the years; however, these are less attractive than the more pricey curtains made from organic fabrics.

You’ll notice, in general, that these sustainable curtains are far costlier than PVC choices, but PVC is costlier when it comes to your – and the planet’s – health. And don’t forget the perk of owning a fabric shower curtain— no more plastic-y smell! If you, too, already have a PVC shower curtain, don’t run out and replace it with an organic one. Use what you have (as long as you can stand the fumes!). Then decide on a product that’s worth it.

What do you think? Have you tried an organic or eco-friendly shower curtain?

What was the result? Does your town recylce PVCs? Let us know greencottonblog@gmail.com

HEMP: Making a Comeback


Hemp is one of the strongest natural fibers today. Widely misunderstood and undervalued for its usefulness, industrial hemp fiber has inherent insulating properties that wick moisture and helps block UVA and UVB rays. As a crop, it is naturally resistant to pests and therefore does not require heavy use of toxic pest and herbicides. As a fabric, like bamboo, hemp has natural antibacterial and anti-mold properties and happens to use a fraction of the water that cotton requires to grow. When it comes to growing, hemp is similar to linen, another stalk fiber.

Hemp is a traditional fiber crop which can be grown in a wide range of climates including the UK, Canada and Australia. This low input crop needs few chemicals and is easy to grow organically. The fabrics produced are renowned for their durability and ability to “breathe”. Bioregional solutions for Sustainability recently posted information on the UK’s movement toward industrial hemp production for clothing purposes.


  • Clothing (all kinds, but primarily heavier, sturdier fabric items such as pants, shoes, handbags, sweaters, jackets, etc). Hemp CAN be made into T-shirts, blankets, shorts and softer, thinner items but these generally require more processing since the natural fiber does organically possess thickness.
  • Food Products: hemp seed oil, hemp oil, toasted seeds, coffee, flour, protein powders and bars.
  • Beauty products: lotions, butters, crèmes, lipware, oils, perfumes.
  • Construction materials.
  • Ropes, bags and other heavy duty fiber use.
  • Other uses.

Hemp is legal to grow and produce in Canada since 1998. Industrial hemp is entirely different than marijuana. Check out this CNN video on Hemp production in Canada with a focus on one company, Manitoba. They export $10 million /year in hemp food products alone. Products include a number of oils, coffee, protein powders, toasted hemp seeds, flours and other items. They also make a variety of body care products and other products including varieties of hemp oil (cold pressed, cold filtered).

Interestingly, Canada requires testing of all crops during the growing season. Samples are taken of the crop and sent to authorized testing labs for THC composition readings. Maximum level of THC allowed in industrial hemp crop in Canada is.3%. For comparison, marijuana is anywhere between 5 – 20% THC, so there is a significant difference, which makes the management of industrial hemp production rather straight forward and feasible.

Looking for a clothing store near you that sells Hemp products?

Well, you just might be in luck! A new website has launched Hemp Clothing Stores for specifically this purpose: to help consumers find Hemp stores all across the country. The site uses a digital map which you can customize to your own interests (flagging favorites etc.). However, when I tried it out for the Maryland/DC area, I did run into problems. My guess is that they are still working out some of the programming glitches, but the idea is a great one. Now we need one for green clothing in general, including organic cotton, bamboo and tencel.

Hempest founded in 1995, has the goal of bringing hemp back to the marketplace and into public discourse. With the belief that the market is the best place to bring out change, Hempest aims to create good products at a reasonable price to simultaneously raise awareness on the value of this plant. Hempest has an urban, alternative beat to it, with a focus on causal, alternative, comfortable clothing wear. They have two stories in Boston (Harvard Square and Newbury Street), North Hampton, MA and one in Burlington VT.

For an short video on the harvesting of hemp for hemp oil and food products click on the link.

Braintree Hemp is a globally established hemp company originating in Australia and supplying to stores all across Australia as well as London and anywhere through their online store. For them, hemp clothing is not just about high quality products, but it is also about the environmental advantages of the fibre– from cultivating and processing through to the manufacture of the textile. They also have a robust on-line store with purchasing capabilities in Euros, Pounds and US dollar.

A variety of other stores also sell a selection of hemp clothing and brands. The stores highlighted here on this post are merely those that are devoted purely to hemp fiber. Photo Source for both Photos: Flickr.

CHALLENGE: While hemp IS becoming more and more mainstream, in reviewing several of the companies that are out there using hemp, it seems that at least in the USA it is still alternative, associated with urban-street, casual attire and is sill co-branding with some marijuana-esque symbolisms and references. While this is hitting a market niche, I would argue that there is value to hemp that can and should go beyond an alternative market. Hemp needs to be positioned as a mainstream fiber even more and given the credibility it deserves as a low impact, sustainable, multi-use fiber that definitely has a place in the fashion world. While it would help if it could be legally growm in the US, the fact that it is widely available in Canada should not stop retailers from integrating this fiber into some of their lines. Some already are and hats off to them.