When you're addicted to the planet
Q: What’s the most ecologically sustainable window blind?
A: The song may tell us to let the sunshine in, but come summer you should really be pulling those blinds closed, thank you very much. Not only does this prevent hot rays from cooking your pad, but it also lets you dabble in the nudist approach to staying cool if you so choose.
The most common blinds on the block are good old Venetians. These are, however, frequently made of green villain PVC, aka vinyl. Back in the 90s, testing found that a large proportion of horizontal mini-blinds gave off lead dust due to lead paint.
After a Health Canada advisory in 96, the tainted blinds were “voluntarily removed from the market,” so HC says your new vinyl blinds shouldn’t have that problem, but they’re still far from a sustainable option. PVC is a seriously polluting plastic to make.
Health Canada says older vinyl mini-blinds give off “high levels of lead dust” when exposed to sunlight – enough to poison a young child.
If you live in an apartment or house with mystery plastic blinds that look like they’re from the 90s or earlier, you may want to trash them. (Sorry, they’re not recyclable).
You could test your blinds with a home lead test kit, but Health Canada says they’re unreliable. On the other hand, Consumer Reports says three of the five home lead-testing kits, including Abotex Lead Inspector and First Alert Lead Test, are “useful though limited screening tools.”
Regardless of their lead content, vinyl venetians are pretty crummy at blocking sunlight anyway. Basic roll-up blinds are also made of vinyl, and like all soft vinyl/pvc, they’re softened with phthalates.
Think you’re safe with fabric curtains instead? Hate to be a Debbie Downer, but ready-made drapes are generally treated with a wrinkle-resistant formaldehyde finish that continues to off-gas as your curtains age. Washing them a couple of times can reduce the formaldehyde on the surface, but it won’t go away entirely.
Speaking of formaldehyde, cheap composite wood blinds made from pressed wood particles are actually made with formaldehyde glues. Better to hunt down sustainably sourced solid wood, which also works better than vinyl and faux wood to block light. Sears offers some accessibly-priced Forest Stewardship Council-certified wood blinds in a few colors. Ikea also has solid wood blinds made from plantation-grown paulownia.
What about options specifically designed to filter out UV rays, namely solar shades? All kinds of blinds marketed as sun shields are made of softer PVC mesh, including popular SheerWeave’s. But SheerWeave does have a green line made of 100 percent PVC-free fabric from post-industrial waste, and it’s theoretically recyclable. Where can you recycle it in real life? Can’t say, but it’s still a solid pick.
Probably your best option for boosting the energy efficiency of your single hung replacement windows is honeycomb or cellular shades. Hunter Douglas is the pioneer of these babies made of safer polyester fabric that’s Greenguard-certified for lower air emissions. Can’t say as much for the cheaper honeycomb shades you’ll find at discount stores, though.
If blocking significant rays isn’t a concern and you’re just looking for decorative curtains, go full-on sustainable and get sweatshop-free, chemical-free hemp roman shades from rawganique.com. Nikki Designs does custom romans out of hemp and organic cotton that is less sheer since they’re also fully lined with hemp (nikkidesigns.ca). Or get crafty and make your own with eco fabrics from, say, schoolyardstudio.com.
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