Photo: What's the eco-friendliest shower curtain?

Avoid PVC shower curtains. (Credit: subsetsum via Flickr)

I'll tell you what's not: PVC or plastic number 3. If you have a shower curtain made from polyvinyl chloride(PVC), you should recycle it.

Polyvinyl chloride is known to off-gas hormone disrupting phthalates. Phthalates are used to soften plastics. You'll know PVC from other popular plastic products like food wrap, teething rings, pet toys and blister packaging. Remember that smell when you first opened the package? It's not unlike that "new car smell". What you smell is the release of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), phthalates and metals.

In fact, a study by the Centre for Health, Environment and Justice found that these chemicals are released into the air inside our homes, contributing to indoor air pollution. PVC shower curtains can release as many as 108 volatile organic chemicals. Some of these chemicals are associated with developmental damage as well as damage to the liver and central nervous, respiratory, and reproductive systems. Not pretty.

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Also, these chemicals are persistent. They were found in the air 28 days after a PVC shower curtain was unwrapped and hung! To prevent these chemicals from being released from PVC and ending up in our bodies and the environment it's best to choose an alternative.

Today, you can find shower curtains labelled PVC-free at most home-design or department stores. These are made from a plastic called PEVA (polyethylene vinyl acetate) — made without the chlorine molecules. But it's still plastic.

A newer option on the market is a hemp shower curtain. But before you fork out the 90-plus dollars for this natural, biodegradable option, make sure your bathroom is well ventilated. While hemp shower curtains are naturally mildew — and mould — resistant, they need to be left open and aired out to dry and launder them regularly.

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