In the beginning of 2010, my bathroom was… retro. And not in a good way. But after a remodel to make it more energy and water efficient, modern and beautiful, I’m much happier when I get ready in the morning and wind down at night.
In my posts on the water-saving choices and eco-friendly materials that went into the remodel, I left out a few final details — what I’ll call the bathroom’s “software” (as opposed to the hardware like cabinets, faucets, and flooring.)
While these little finishing touches seem small, they’re worth considering: toilet paper, shower curtains, and towels. (Oh, and then there’s keeping the bathroom clean in a green way, which you can read about in this post.)
Even if you're not in a place to use wood remnants for a new
cabinet or recycled aluminum for a new backsplash, you still have an
opportunity to embrace the eco-tenet of recycling in your bathroom—in your
toilet paper. The average American uses over 100 rolls [of toilet paper] a
year, most of which is made from a combination of softwood and hardwood trees.
Southern pines and Douglas firs make the paper strong, while maples and oaks
make the paper soft.
I am not convinced that oak trees should be chopped down in order to give our bums a little more comfort—or that dioxin contamination from the chlorine bleach used to make traditional toilet paper bright is the right price to pay for white T.P.
Toilet paper made from recycled paper uses colored and white paper stock and is usually whitened with hydrogen peroxide. My choice is Seventh Generation because of the integrity the company shows throughout their product line.
There are smells that I grew up with that I once thought
were good things. I believed the smell of bleach equaled clean and the scent of
plastic shower curtains made them new. I now know better. The 2008 Center for Health, Environment and
Justice report, Volatile Vinyl, determined a
sampling of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) shower curtain released up to 108 volatile
organic compounds (VOCs), some of which lingered nearly a month after the
curtains were hung.
As I have detailed in this series, VOCs are known to cause health problems ranging from headaches to respiratory problems and may be possible carcinogens. Each of the curtains tested (purchased at big box stores) contained phthalates (known endocrine disruptors) and heavy metals including mercury and lead. PVC is commonly used in everything from shower curtains to car interiors and is increasingly known as the "poison plastic." There is no safe way to manufacture or dispose of PVC because of the host of chemicals contained within it. PVC creates toxic emissions in recycling processes and can't be recycled.
All of this contributed to the small design collective Grain's decision to create a simple plastic shower curtain that doesn't offgas toxic chemicals and can be recycled. Their Ty shower curtain is one of my most cherished bathroom items. It moves and breathes like a natural fiber, resists mold and mildew and is made from HDPE, a commonly recycled plastic.
My friends Angela and Jeff gave me the most surprisingly indulgent housewarming present I have ever received: bamboo towels. Bamboo is a rapidly renewable fiber that's grown without pesticides—unlike cotton crops, which use approximately 25 percent of the world's pesticides. Although transforming the bamboo stalk into fiber does require a fair amount of water, I usually consider it a pretty eco-minded choice.
Because my focus was on bathroom hardware, I hadn't yet considered my towels but, fortunately, Angela and Jeff had. They gave me Pure Fiber towels. I have never in my life coveted towels, but these ones are spectacularly soft and absorbent. Love the classic cotton towels? Just make sure they’re organic cotton.
I’m looking forward to a year without major home overhauls. Hello, 2011.
Simran Sethi is an associate professor of Journalism at the University of Kansas. Follow her on Twitter @simransethi.
Edited by Rebecca Evanhoe; photos by Jessica Sain-Baird.