Would You Take a Shower With Tyvek?

Ty Shower Curtain PVC Free photo

Photo via Grain.

An off-gassing shower curtain with its 108 volatile organic compounds, is an affront to your health and your senses. So it's natural to want to applaud the efforts of four designers, grouped together at a fledgling design firm called Grain, as they attempt to create an alternative to PVC-based plastic shower curtains. Yet swapping out the PVC plastic for the wonders of Tyvek may not be the right move. Tyvek isn't truly recyclable and is basically a petroleum-based product. Designers get pretty enamored with versatile Tyvek - click forward for Grain co-founder Chelsea Green talking about the justification for creating with Tyvek.It's what Hazmat suits are made of
Tyvek, 'a spun bonded High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE) non-woven' is DuPont's premier product for protecting house insulation from humidity, which makes it good for bathrooms, where humidity also lingers. It is durable, and breathable, and protects slightly against mold and mildew, Chelsea Green told TreeHugger.

"Tyvek works extremely well in moisture-filled environments. One of its main specifications for Tyvek is in construction as a house wrap to protect homes from moisture. The fabric-like grade that we specify for Ty actually has small perforations (hardly noticeable by the eye) that allow for the curtain to breathe while still being totally waterproof. This keeps Ty from gathering mold/mildew, reducing the need to wash/replace it."

'Recyclable' or is it?
Green goes on to say that PEVA (polyethylene vinyl acetate) curtains, while being non-PVC, and available from some retailers such as IKEA, are not recyclable. In addition, Green says, they are not particularly durable and not recommended for machine washing.

But let's stop a moment for Tyvek's recyclability. Tyvek is not actually recycled, it is downcycled, into a variety of products, yes, such as plastic lumber. But no sheet of Tyvek will ever be a new sheet of Tyvek. And Tyvek's recycling is a pain and a hassle for consumers, who must group together their Tyvek pieces and mail them to the company. DuPont expanded this recycling program in April 2009 so that its big customers could track what they have recycled. The company says 50,000 pounds of Tyvek are getting repurposed each year.

That seemed to be good enough for the Cradle-to-Cradle folks, who gave the US Post Office a 'silver' Cradle-to-Cradle certification for Tyvek Priority Mail and Express Mail packages. That seems disingenuous, as the Post Office doesn't do anything to ensure that those mailers, once sent, are actually returned to DuPont. That means, in McDonough-Braungart-speak, that these 'industrial nutrients' aren't really assured of getting back into the supply chain.

Low waste, low price
As Green describes it, Grain also admired Tyvek because it allowed them to set up manufacture of the shower curtains with very little waste.

"We purchase the material in the exact dimension (60"W) so that no trimming is necessary. Tyvek cuts easily without fraying so that we are not using extra material to bind/finish edges. The only waste throughout the entire process comes from the 1/4" hanging holes that we punch along the top. No metal/plastic grommets are required because the material itself is so durable."

And last but not least, Tyvek allowed Grain to offer the shower curtain for what it feels is a good price point - $30.

So what do you think - is the Tyvek shower curtain (which will soon be available in printed patterns) a step toward sustainability? Would you buy one?

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