Ceramic Recycling: Is Ceramic Recyclable & How Can You Reuse It?

Have you got some broken pottery you need to recycle? Have you ever actually thought is ceramic recyclable?

Well, you’re in the right place. 

From everyday plates and favourite coffee cups, to flower pots and outdoor tiles and even full sinks, ceramic items can be found in all corners of the home.

Due to their tough but brittle nature, ceramic is prone to cracking, chipping and breaking if it’s dropped for example.

When this happens, a good eco minded person like you will think is ceramic recyclable or do I just have to chuck it in the bin?

If you’re here now, you’ll be interested in ceramic recycling and to learn about the material’s environmental impact. 

So, let’s take a look at ceramic recycling, as well as its environmental impact for good measure.

Is ceramic recyclable?

All ceramic items will eventually get chipped or cracked. And once the first few cracks have appeared, it won’t be long until the item finally breaks beyond repair.

You might just drop your favourite mug straight on the floor like I have a few times.

So, is ceramic recyclable?

Ceramics are technically fully recyclable, but they can’t be recycled through your home recycling bin.

earthenware ceramic items

This is a similar case for other household items, such as bubble wrap and e-waste. Recycling is possible but it’s difficult.

In the case of ceramics, it’s because the material is incredibly heat-resistant. Earthenware, porcelain or stoneware are almost impossible to melt in a standard recycling facility.

This means that ceramic items cannot be recycled from home anywhere in the UK.

But while you definitely shouldn’t use your curbside bin for ceramic recycling, that doesn’t mean that you can’t find a way to recycle chipped plates, mugs and even tiles.

Reusing ceramic is often your best policy.

How to recycle ceramic plates and tiles?

So, what can you do to recycle ceramic effectively, or at least give your ceramics a new life?

If you’re dealing with broken ceramic or an item in poor condition, you can contact your local waste recycling centre to enquire about their ceramic recycling policies and arrange a drop-off. 

Note that, depending on your location, your nearest household waste facility might be quite far away, so it’s worth waiting until you have collected enough unusable ceramic before making the trip!

My local recycling centre says to put broken pottery items into the general waste bin, which is less than ideal. However, there are other options.

Ceramic recycling examples – Good ways to put your old ceramics to reuse

ceramic recycling mug

Instead of putting your ceramics into the general waste bin, there are plenty of ways to reuse the, first.

Donating ceramics

Ceramic in good condition can be simply donated to a charity shop or passed to a new owner through free sharing websites like Freecycle and Olio.

Donating is a more sustainable option than recycling anyway. Ceramic recycling where possible does include plenty of energy-intensive processes – you need a lot of heat to try and melt crockery and earthenware.

When it comes to recycling tiles and chunky ceramic fixtures like toilets and sinks, your best bet will be to get in touch with a commercial recycling facility — they should be more than happy to take cracked bathroom fixtures off your hands!

Reuse in your garden

reusing ceramics in garden for plant pot

If you do have broken crockery on your hands, it’s possible to reuse them in your garden. 

Any smaller chips may act as a bit of character for a plant pot, but if your plate has been shattered, then the shards can be added to the bottom of garden pots or soil beds to aid with good drainage. 

This is what I do.

I keep an old tub (that previously housed bird fat balls) in the shed where I put any smashed plates and chipped mugs. I usually break them down so they’re in a little bits, which are ideal for placing at the bottom of plant pots for drainage.

If you’re interested in gardening, here are some good tips on rewilding your garden for the good of nature and the environment.

Mosaic decoration

If you’re not a plant lover or don’t plan on getting anymore, then you can use broken ceramics in different ways.

The shards and pieces look really effective as a mosaic to decorate something that’s otherwise pretty boring.

You can use the pieces to make a cool table top, decorate plant pots or as a splash back in your toilet or kitchen.

Is ceramic eco friendly?

Taken at face value, ceramic does seem like an eco friendly material. 

Ceramic is incredibly durable, food-safe, and made from biodegradable materials that are abundant in nature. This is all great. 

broken ceramics for recycling

On top of that, we tend to prize and protect our best ceramic items, making them last even longer. High-end ceramics can be pricey and fragile, so are usually kept safely stored as the ace up your sleeve you only bring out to impress guests.

But just because you’re not using your ‘good’ plates and mugs as often, that doesn’t mean that they won’t experience their fair share of wear and tear as well!

These are all good sustainable points and are positives for the ceramic eco friendly argument.

The negative side of ceramic sustainability

On the negative side, ceramics are also problematic when it comes to their manufacturing. The kilns used to dry the clay mixture consume massive amounts of energy as they need to reach temperatures in the thousands of degrees.

To create a finished product, ceramic items also need glazing so they can be coloured and decorated. The glazing process involves adding a layer of vitreous (glass-like) substances to the product, which is what makes natural degradation so challenging.

As you’ve heard above, ceramic can’t be recycled from home.

Is ceramic biodegradable?

No, ceramic is not biodegradable.

Not in our lifetime anway.

Due to the glazed element of ceramics, microbes and fungi cannot penetrate the material like they would with raw clay.

Because of this it can take thousands and thousands of years to degrade. In fact, no glazed ceramic ever produced has had time to biodegrade yet. It will probably take a million years to degrade. Worse than plastic bags! 

The positive is that it’s an inert material meaning it won’t release harmful micro particles and chemicals into the environment where it lies.

This is why it’s important to reuse ceramic where you can.

So, does ceramic have an environmental impact?

ceramic pottery being made by a person

At the end of the day, ceramic does have a negative impact on our environment, but only in the same way that glass, stainless steel, and many other everyday materials do. So it’s your outlook on what sustainability truly means that will drive your opinion on it!

While cooking at extremely high temperatures, ceramic requires less heat and energy than glass to create the same number of products. It can be considered more sustainable than plastic too.

If you value durability more than other factors, you’ll find that ceramics fare pretty well on the sustainability scale.

Wrap up on ceramic recycling

While fragile, ceramic mugs are still more durable than glass when faced with extreme changes in temperature. They are also very far from being single-use, while we throw away plastic and paper plates or cups at unsustainable rates. 

But when it comes to disposal, ceramics are a problematic addition to our landfills unless the material is reused around the home or donated to someone else.

Before I put this article together, I would have assumed ceramics to be very sustainable. But until we can find a better way to recycle broken pieces, their life cycle will always be a little too short with too few ways to recycle ceramic at the end of its life.

FAQs on ceramics

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