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 firstname.lastname@example.org