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.