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Because You Asked

Because You Asked: Can I Recycle Plastic Drop Cloths?

By Recyclebank |

Plastic drop cloths have drawbacks. When you start a painting job, consider all your options for protecting the surrounding area.

Dear Recyclebank: Are plastic drop cloths, such as the type used for painting, recyclable? –David Z.

Dear David: While it may be made of technically recyclable material, your plastic drop cloth shouldn’t go out with your regular recycle collection.

As we’ve discussed before, non-rigid plastic often isn’t a good fit for curbside recycling programs. Due to its flexibility, it can get caught in, and jam, machinery. While the plastic in drop cloths may be thicker than your average plastic bag, it’s still thin enough that it’s likely to need special recovery measures, such as drop-off programs that specifically handle plastic film.

Another issue here is the paint itself. While metal paint cans containing paint residue are often recyclable, plastic is processed differently and is more susceptible to contamination.

You may be able to scrape off small amounts of paint or cut out sections that have large blobs, but if enough paint has stuck to the drop cloth, it’s likely that regular recycling won’t be a possibility.

Also, oil-based paints are generally considered household hazardous waste (HHW). Depending on your state’s regulations, you may not even be able to dispose of an oil-paint-stained drop cloth with your regular trash. Find your state agencies on the EPA website to learn more. You also can try your city’s website for HHW information specific to your locality.

All in all, you’re better off investing in something longer lasting if you can. While a canvas drop cloth will cost more up front, it will also stand up to many paint jobs beyond what a plastic drop cloth can handle before needing to be disposed of. You may even be able to rent one from a contractor or home supply store.

Remember, before you start a project, consider what kind of materials you’ll need to do the job, and how you’ll need to dispose of those materials when the job is finished. Then, if possible, you can prevent unnecessary waste before it becomes a problem.

SOURCES: Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, Ohio EPA

Do you have any painting projects around the house coming up? Let us know what you’re planning in the comments.

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  • Kelly and Linda C. 8 days ago
    I use cheap clear shower curtains for many projects instead of throwing them out. When using them in the shower, they can be washed in the washer and re used. When replaced, I use the old one for crafts, painting, also planting flowers in an area I don't want to have to do much clean up. They are very useful. Such as when doing crafts with grapevine wreathes, if you have the shower curtain down on your work space, you don't have to worry about all the leaves and sticks that come off, also if the glue gun should get glue droppings. I find the painting plastic draping to be too thin and hard to even walk on as does not stay in place. Hope this can help someone with their projects.
  • Linda W. 26 days ago
    Joanna l. that's what I use, what else could you use an old shower curtain for? and they are a bit more heavy gauge than the disposable plastic drop cloth film
    • Kelly and Linda C. 8 days ago
      Hi Linda, I just saw your comment. See mine for help on uses for your shower curtain. I have a thick one and ones from the dollar store also. They all work great. Just throw in the washer if you need them cleaned, then just reuse for whatever you find the need to.
  • joanna l. 26 days ago
    I very seldom would paint, but I imagine that shower curtains can be used for any type of messy jobs like repotting plants or to cover a table for craft time.
  • Linda K. 1 month ago
    We use old bed sheets as drop cloths. This way, I don't need to spend money and I'm saving the sheets from the landfill (I don't know how to sew so I can't repurpose the sheets). Also, when I seed the lawn, I will use the same sheets over newly seeded areas to prevent the seed from being washed away during heavy storms. Bed sheets have a multitude of uses!!
    • Kelly and Linda C. 8 days ago
      I agree Linda, sheets work so much better for painting than buying the drop clothes. They lay nicely and are washable. Good for crafts too and in the garden.
  • Katy T. 1 month ago
    The canvas drop cloth is a good idea.
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