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.

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.

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

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

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    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 at 3:16

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.

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