13

How can ceramics be recycled? Does the answer vary greatly depending on glaze or other factors, and if so, how can those factors be determined (i.e. how can I tell if a glaze contains lead or not)?

My municipality says ceramics and pottery should either be re-used somehow (e.g. ceramic tiles donated if unneeded) but otherwise should be discarded as trash. I've read about how broken pottery, if it cannot be repurposed, could be smashed up and restored to clay which can either be absorbed by soil/compost or re-used for new pottery. I don't know much about pottery though, and I imagine that 'break down to raw materials' approach is only appropriate for certain types of pottery finishing. For example, if a ceramic was finished with a lead-containing glaze, I wouldn't want to add that to compost which would go to my vegetable garden and I probably shouldn't add that to any soil fill in any case. Also, breaking down any glazed ceramic back to dust would result in not just regular clay but also the glaze, which I imagine is a mixture not as suitable for making pottery.

7

Recycling ceramics is possible, but it looks like it is still rare. This is an example of a business crushing bathroom porcelain into fine clay to then melt it again in a kiln and produce tiles. The same business and another one are mentioned on this website.

The similarity between glass and ceramic materials might mean there are ways to use them in a similar recycling path, which can give more options for businesses looking into valorising the material. (See this paper for example.)

If you can't find a local business that recycles it to make new ceramic objects, it is probably a good idea to drop it at a local "tip" where different materials will be sorted, and where someone might find a use for them. (This increases the likelihood of it being recycled, when compared to mixing it straight into the general rubbish that is destined to landfill.)

I'd argue that, given the difficulty and cost of recycling and transporting such materials, the diversity of glazes used in them, and the fact that not many people have a recycler close-by, the way to maximise the value of the ceramic pieces is to make use of its durability and looks. The shine and colour that the pieces probably have will make them valuable to people who want to reuse them artistically, in mosaics and decorations. Creating news tiles with patterns from ceramic pieces can be great for the outside or the inside of a home, or for bigger community projects like a school's mural or a local council's arty footpath.

If no one is interested in taking it, using it broken down as gravel or a filler is the next option.

  • 2
    +1 for mosaics. I once visited someone whose kitchen was tiled with leftover and broken tiles, quite lovely. – RedSonja Oct 11 '18 at 12:46
6

Use them to line the bottom of a pot for drainage. Line a walk way. Fill in a pot hole. Treat them like gravel.

  • 3
    Yep, smashing them down to gravel-sized pieces is the way to go. Minimal energy required, and you have got nice, sharp fill material that compacts and drains well. Concrete pads, French drains, mulch layers, greywater leach fields, backfill for retaining walls, hydroponic bed media — countless uses. – Tim Oct 9 '18 at 3:16
3

Not worth it. Clay is cheap. Breaking up clay is more expensive than getting new clay. The big expense in ceramics are the energy to fire it, and the transport to move it. The ingrediants are, by comparison, free.

In passing: Ceramics are right up there with flint, chert and obsidian for durability in the archeological record. Whole cultures are named for the the ceramics they produced. (E.g. Beaker culture in Europe) In some cases ceramics are the only record we have.

Consider that if we recycled all ceramics we would leave archeologists a dozen millennia from now guessing who we were. And the most durable stuff we will leave? Toss up between toilet bowls and Corelle ware.

2

enter image description here I have been up cycling ceramic pots by adding paint, clay design and texture and repurposing them - to make them lovable again 😊

2

You can smash them yourself and use them for all sorts of things:

  1. As an art medium (great for mosaics!).
  2. To line the bottom plant pots to allow better draining and avoid root rot.
  3. Put the pieces in sealed jars to make cat toys.
  4. Use as pieces when creating new ceramics.
  5. Use pieces to create a walkway from a dirt path.
  6. Use to delineate the edge of a trail, a walkway, or a driveway.
  7. Drill holes in thin shiny pieces and use them when making fishing lures.
  8. Glue pieces to a wall or ceiling to make a decoration.
  9. Glue magnets to interesting pieces to create unique refrigerator magnets.
  10. Use as tools. I have one piece of broken ceramic that I use as a dirt leveler when working outdoors. I use another piece as a grout remover.
  11. Make a wind chime.
  12. Mix with acrylic to make a wonderfully unique countertop.

These are just a dozen quick ideas from the top of my head that I've personally done. I imagine if you search the internet, you'll find hundreds more creative uses!

1

Ceramics cannot rust, corrode under normal circumstances or be easily melted down like scrap metal. Because of the unique chemical properties that denote non reactivity with materials and solvents; the thing that makes them so long lasting; the very thing that makes them so useful for ......it's difficult to recycle. Some Terra cotta is made of recycled ceramic pipe shards. Most ceramics aren't recycled; Because of their absurdly high melting points, it's more energy efficient to simply repurpose the material into other uses.

  • Rubble for landfill or construction filler.
  • gravel substitute
  • Rock base for driveways

The fact is, ceramics are some of humanity's longest lasting manmade items, some pottery is over 20,000 years old. It is possible to recycle them, Ground into an ultrafine dust, they reconstitute the original source material clay to which they can be made into new ceramics. As virgin clay sources get more scarce; recycling pottery, porcelain toilets, etc will grow in demand.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.