You know the potent smell that's released when you first pull a new shower curtain out of its packaging? Well, considering the fact that most plastic shower curtains are made of polyvinyl chloride (a.k.a. PVC or vinyl), that “new shower curtain smell” is likely a combination of lead and hormone-disrupting phthalates. A 2008 report by the Center for Health, Environment and Justice found that just one shower curtain tested released 108 volatile organic compounds (VOCs), some of which persisted in the air for nearly a month.
MORE ENVIRONMENTAL PROBLEMS WITH SHOWER CURTAINS
- Chemical fungicides are often added to make them more resistant to mildew.
- They're hard to clean, so they usually just get thrown away.
- PVC is among the most environmentally unfriendly plastics around because it's tough for consumers to recycle.
- If vinyl is incinerated, it will release dioxins and other contaminants into the environment.
- Even fabric curtains can be coated with water-repellent nonstick coatings that are made with persistent contaminants.
WHAT CAN AN ECO-CONCIOUS BATHER DO?
- Get a fabric shower curtain made of hemp, which is washable, sustainably grown, and naturally mold and fungus-resistant.
- Rawganique.com sells organic hemp shower curtains from $50 to $109.
- If you're craft-inclined, you can buy hemp fabric by the yard at hemp shops and sew one yourself.
- Cotton curtains work too, but they're mold-prone and you may need to use two (one for a liner and one as decoration).
- TerraLunaSol.com sells organic cotton twill shower curtains that are washable and do not require liners.
- Some of the plastic shower curtains sold at Kmart and Target are made of polyethylene vinyl acetate (PEVA), which is still vinyl but it's made without chlorine: the part that creates dangerous dioxins during manufacturing and incineration. PEVA is also free of the hormone-disrupting, asthma-inducing phthalates contained in PVC.
- If you do stick with vinyl, hang new shower curtains outside to off-gas for a few days before using it.
- Install a shower door or sliding enclosure. They last forever and you can clean them instead of throwing them in a landfill.