Recycling Mystery: Plastic Shower Curtains
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Recycling Mystery: Plastic Shower Curtains

Jan 12, 2024

If your shower has a plastic curtain or liner, has it seen better days? If so, you may be wondering if you can recycle it. It might seem like you could recycle this big sheet of plastic like you do plastic bottles and grocery bags — but you probably can't.

Let's look at how you might recycle your plastic shower curtain. We’ll also consider some better options to take its place and some ways you can reuse that old shower curtain to extend its useful life.

It's very unlikely that you can recycle your worn-out shower curtain in your curbside bin or at a drop-off location. Most plastic shower curtains or plastic shower curtain liners are made of PVC (polyvinyl chloride), also known as plastic #3, which is generally not recyclable in municipal recycling systems. This is unfortunate since PVC is so durable and the third most used variety of plastic.

Do not treat plastic shower curtains like film plastic and try to recycle them at a store drop-off location. Your shower curtain is made from a different polymer.

TerraCycle, a company that believes that nearly everything can be recycled, accepts shower curtains for recycling in their Bathroom Accessories Zero Waste Box. TerraCycle asks customers to purchase a box from them, fill it, and then mail the full box back to them (shipping cost included in box purchase cost). This solution isn't cheap, starting at $118 as of early 2021, but you can include bath toys, pumices, soap dispensers, soap dishes, bath mats, bathtub safety rails, and showerheads — all of which are also hard to recycle. TerraCycle offers many other Zero Waste Boxes for specific rooms and items.

Since you are considering how to get rid of a worn-out shower curtain, you are probably also looking for a replacement. There are more eco-friendly alternatives.

The best advice is to first select a shower curtain that is washable and more durable than a PVC curtain. Ideally, your next shower curtain will last longer and not need to be thrown away when it's past its usefulness. There are many polyester cloth shower curtains on the market that you can safely machine wash over and over. Because these curtains are made of cloth, they could potentially be recycled with fabric at the end of their life.

If you’d rather not continue to use a plastic-based shower curtain even if it is fabric, you might consider a 100% cotton or hemp curtain. When it's past its useful life, you could potentially cut it up and compost it, but you’d want to try a small piece first. These curtains don't require a liner, but if you can't live without a liner for your cotton or hemp curtain, avoid the PVC by getting a machine washable polyester liner that would last as long as a polyester shower curtain.

Alternately, eliminate the shower curtain completely and install a shower screen or shower door on your tub. More costly, these long-term installations are very durable and washable. They will eventually also need to be landfilled or upcycled, but the timeline is in decades, not single years like the life of plastic shower curtains.

No matter which kind of shower curtain or door you land on, do your best to help it last longer. Wash it regularly to prevent mold and mildew. Keep your bathroom well ventilated. You may even manually dry it off between showers.

If your shower curtain is no longer usable for its initial purpose, it probably still has value for other uses. Consider your plastic shower curtain a small tarp that's easier to cut than the conventional outdoor, blue tarps. Here are a few ideas to get your mind churning on how you can use this big piece of plastic:

If you need something lined, protected, kept dry — this is your material to use!

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