Albeit a bit late in the season, rain has finally wet the pavement in California. No crazy storms, just refreshing, replenishing rainwater to make our reservoirs a little less barren. All this good news makes me want to do a little jig à la Gene Kelly. But the PVC-laden umbrellas, jackets and rain boots are keeping me from singing (ok, the fact that I am tone deaf does play a part). Thankfully, there are now PVC-free options for us puddle jumping planet lovers. So before you go out and buy that super cute vinyl poncho, let me first explain a little bit about PVC and then I will showcase some of my personal eco-friendly favorites.
It's a slippery matter. While we need the rain to replenish our waterways and keep our crops thriving, the majority of the "waterproof" gear we sport during the stormy season is made out of PVC (poly vinyl chloride), most commonly known as vinyl. The material becomes soft and flexible with the addition of plasticizers (phthalates), but these plasticizers make outerwear toxic and carcinogenic for both the people who use and wear the fabric and the people that work with the raw material.
There are environmental and health hazards posed during the entire life cycle of PVC. Communities surrounding production plants experience increased groundwater and air pollution, and residents have been found with much higher levels of dioxin (a known carcinogen) in their blood than the average U.S. citizen. During use, PVC off-gases and releases hazardous chemicals like mercury, dioxins and phthalates (an endocrine disrupter). And unlike other plastics, PVC can't be recycled - in fact, according to the Center for Environmental Health, just one PVC item can contaminate a batch of 100,000 recyclable bottles!
So, there are really only two options once a PVC-laden product has run its course - the landfill or incineration. If PVC ends up in the landfill, it further releases chemicals, like lead, that leach into our drinking and groundwater. If incinerated, PVC products release dioxins and furans (both known carcinogens that rank as some of the most toxic pollutants).
Thankfully, there are companies producing PVC-free rain gear, and many of the eco products are just as fashionable - if not more - than their conventional counterparts. Here are my top picks for covering up:
• Umbrella: Crate & Barrel has a cute handy telescopic umbrella made of recycled plastic bottles, hemp and bamboo that is only $30. The Totes Eco 'brella is another affordable option, available in a few different colors, also $30. But the original eco-umbrella, the Brelli, is still the "clear" option for leaving the lightest footprint on rainy days - the entire umbrella is completely biodegradable!
• Rain Jacket: Though there are no Burberry-looking replacements yet for women, the Modus Trench for men from Nau is runway worthy. This jacket is truly one of the most beautiful pieces I've ever seen designed for men - eco or not (it's available in a women's style as well, but isn't quite as chic). Made of 100% recycled polyester, the jacket is breathable and has a detachable hood for lighter days. Patagonia also has a line of jackets using recycled materials that can be sent back to their Common Threads Recycling Program to be made into new garments.
• Rain Boots: Make sure you choose rain boots made with natural tapped rubber - a rapidly renewable resource that comes from rubber trees (you also end up supporting indigenous communities that tap the sap). Hunter and Aigle have boots for the entire family in fun colors and styles. While the lining can still be a concern (nylon or polyester lining fused with the rubber boot means that the product can no longer be recycled, and conventional cotton poses issues), we're anxiously awaiting the introduction of organic cotton lining to Aigle Boots.
So keep dry in sustainable style by supporting companies that are producing environmentally conscious rain gear, it will minimize the impact our personal "comfort" has on the planet, ensuring that our childrens' children will be able to splish splash and puddle stomp just like our grandparents did... when they were kids.
Follow Zem Joaquin on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@zem