A tarp is a handy thing when you want to keep something dry, but don't have an industrial sized warehouse in the back yard. Now that we are hobby farming/homesteading, we have acquired some "stuff". Some of it won't or shouldn't fit in the pole shed, and some of it is just temporary. We also heat with wood, and it should be kept dry to make the most of it. If I've split more wood than will fit in my storage sheds, I tarp it. (time build another wood shed!)
While it's not that green to go buying things made of plastic, I"m not a purist, and will buy things made of plastic when the need outweighs my desire to consume less.
There are actually several life stages of a tarp. Tarp in its initial setting sits on a shelf in a home improvement or hardware store. They used to be only blue, but now come in several colors. Once purchased by the typical home improver, they might be used for about anything. They come in light duty, medium duty, heavy duty, trucker industrial duty, good old canvas, and even one called recreational. I have never had a recreational tarp, but suspect they are pretty flimsy, more for casual frippery and nothing serious.
While it depends on the application, I generally buy a medium duty, trying to go for the eternal compromise between short term and long term economics.
When a tarp is put to its first use, it is pretty much waterproof, and I use them for covering things that need the best protection, or that probably really should be stored inside. But after a few months, or a season, the wind and sun takes its toll. They begin to wear, and you can see wrinkles, light streaks of discoloration, and maybe even the beginnings of light showing through in pinholes. They are still pretty good, but might be leaking a bit, so moved down the hierarchy to slightly less demanding duty.
This new tarp is protecting a new electrical wood splitter we just bought. The splitter will get its own post later.
This tarp is protecting our grill/smoker. It's a bit older. but still in good shape.
Another season or two, and now they definitely leak, but only in areas, and most of the surface does deflect rain. Can still be used for things that can stand a bit of water. Maybe used for temporary coverage, maybe to cover a tiller or brush mower that ran out of gas before getting to the shed. Or covering a load in the pickup truck on a trip that threatens rain.
After another year or two, it is definitely tattered, and you wouldn't want to count on it for shelter in a rain. By this time, it is good for gathering leaves to drag to the mulch pile, or to catch wood chips shooting out of a chipper, but not much else. It can be in this stage for a couple years, if stored when not being used.
Once large tears have developed, it's pretty much useless, and time for the trash. They are effectively unrecycleable here.
Recycling has always been a bit of a conscience salve anyway, rather than a true implementation of a circular economy, but it has become even less effective since China stopped taking our poorly sorted detritus last year. I suspect much of it is going in to landfills now, but reducing plastic use can be hard to do completely.
I'm ready to try the used old billboard tarps next time I need new tarp. While they don't recycle either, at least I'm repurposing some plastic. Until I can figure out a better, more sustainable way, I will use tarps for temporary wether protection, and just use them for as long as I can.