Is Ceramic Tile Recyclable? Easy Ways to Dispose of Old Tiles

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There comes a time when we all need to replace our old ceramic and porcelain tiles.

Maybe they're cracked and chipped, or just old and dated. Tiling is no fun, but sometimes it has to be done!

But for those of us who strive for an eco-friendly bathroom, throwing our waste into the trash can is simply not an option.

So what do you do with your old ceramic tiles when it's time to replace them? Are ceramic tiles recyclable, and what is the most environmentally friendly way to dispose of them?

In fact, there are several alternatives when it comes to disposing of old tiles, and while it is possible to recycle them, it's not always the best option...

Can Ceramic Tiles be Recycled?

is ceramic tile recyclable or reusable

Ceramic tiles are made from natural materials like clay and sand. They are generally considered to be very durable, and they can last for many years with proper care.

However, when ceramic tiles do eventually reach the end of their lifespan, they can be recycled.

The process to recycle ceramic begins by crushing the tiles into a fine powder. This powder can then be used to create new ceramic products or it can be used as a fill material for road construction projects.

In addition to being recycled, ceramic tiles can also be reused in other ways which are actually better for the environment. More about that later.

How to Recycle Ceramic Tiles

Ceramic tiles are not typically recyclable through curbside programs, and you will need to contact your local recycling center to ask whether they accept ceramic tiles.

If so, you'll need to drop off the old tiles yourself. A strong cardboard box is usually the best container to carry them in. Try to avoid using plastic refuse sacks as these can rip easily - and, well, they're plastic, which we want to use as little as possible.

Otherwise, you may need to find a specialist company, and these are few and far between in the US. Crossville Inc in Tenessee is one example, with their tile take-back program, but there are very limited options.

Can You Put Ceramic Tiles in the Recycling Bin?

No, you cannot just put ceramic tiles in with your normal household recycling. They are too heavy and bulky for curbside pickup, and they can't be mixed in with paper, metals, or plastics.

If you have broken tiles you'll need to take them to the recycling center yourself.

However, if you have removed floor or wall tiles that are still in one piece, or if you have leftover tiles that you didn't use, then they can be reused rather than recycled. More about that later.

Are Ceramic Tiles Eco-Friendly?

Ceramic tiles are a popular choice for floors, walls, and countertops, but there is some debate over whether they are eco-friendly.

On the one hand, ceramic tiles are made from natural materials like clay and sand. They are durable, long-lasting, and they can be recycled or reused.

On the other hand, the manufacturing process for ceramic tiles is energy-intensive, and the tiles themselves are not biodegradable.

In addition, many ceramic tiles contain harmful chemicals like lead and cadmium. However, there are also a handful of eco-friendly ceramic tiles on the market that are made from sustainable materials and do not contain harmful chemicals.

When choosing ceramic tiles for your home, it is important to do your research to ensure that you are choosing a product that is eco-friendly.

If in doubt, look for kitchen or bathroom tiles that have an eco-label such as LEED or Floor Score. These labels indicate that the product has been produced in a way that minimizes its impact on the environment.

Is Ceramic Tile Biodegradable?

Ceramic tile is made from natural materials like clay and shale that are formed into thin sheets and fired in a kiln. Because of the high temperatures involved in the firing process, ceramic tile is non-porous and extremely durable.

However, this also means that ceramic tile is not biodegradable. Once they have been used and discarded, ceramic and porcelain tiles exist in the environment almost indefinitely.

For this reason, we need to do whatever is necessary to keep old tiles out of landfills.

How Do I Dispose of Leftover Tiles?

Whenever you do a tiling job, it's normal to order more ceramic floor tiles or wall tiles than you need, in order to allow for breakages and/or cutting tiles to size.

There are better ways to dispose of leftover ceramic and porcelain tiles than to recycle them.

Keep Them

Old tiles can be chipped or cracked while they're on your wall or floor.

If that happens to you, then you may have a problem. Quite often you will find that the tile pattern is no longer available and you can't buy a new one to match.

And even if you can, the shade and patterns can vary between different production runs, meaning the new one will stand out and look odd.

Accidents happen, and when they do you will definitely be glad that you keep a few old tiles spare in your garage, shed, or closet.

Donate Them

Sometimes we calculate our calculations wrong and end up buying far more tiles than we need. If you have a large number of spare tiles left over, you won't need to keep them all as emergency replacements, so how about donating them to someone else.

You could offer them to friends and family for their next tiling project, or list them on freecycle to see if anyone else in your area could use them.

Alternatively, you could donate to your local Habitat for Humanity, a nonprofit that helps families build and improve their homes.

Sell Them

It's also possible to sell unused tiles online through Facebook, eBay, or Craigslist.

If you have a large quantity that will be enough for someone else's tiling project, you could easily find a buyer in your local area.

You won't recoup the full amount you paid for the tiles, as buyers would expect them to be cheaper second-hand than they would pay in stores. But price them appropriately and you could at least get some money back for them.

What Else Can I Do With an Old Ceramic Tile?

ceramic tile upcycling

If you're removing old bathroom tiles and they don't break or crack, there are plenty of ways you can reuse them without needing to go down the recycling route.

  • You can paint ceramic tiles and use them to tile around your front doorstep or to brighten up parts of your backyard.
  • Old ceramic and porcelain tiles are perfect to make mosaics, for art projects, or practical uses. In this way, you can mix different colors, patterns, and designs together.
  • Ceramic or marble tiles with smooth edges can be cut to size and make perfect coasters. Just use some fabric or felt to cover the bottoms.
  • Smashed tiles can be used as shingles on driveways, in plant pots, or around flower beds or lawn borders.

If these ideas don't capture your imagination, there are hundreds more on Pinterest that will. Try here and here for some more great examples of what you can do with an old ceramic tile.

The Difference Between Porcelain and Ceramic Tiles

Porcelain and ceramic tiles are both popular choices for flooring, backsplashes, and other decorative applications. But what's the difference between the two materials?

Both porcelain and ceramic are made from a mix of clay and other minerals, but the proportion of ingredients is different.

Porcelain tiles are made from finer, more tightly packed clay, which makes them denser and less porous than ceramic tiles. This makes porcelain tiles more durable and stain-resistant than ceramic tiles.

However, porcelain tiles are also more expensive than ceramic tiles. When choosing between porcelain and ceramic tiles, it's important to consider your budget and the area where the tiles will be installed.

For high-traffic areas or areas where there is a risk of staining, porcelain tiles may be the best option. However, for less demanding applications, ceramic tiles can provide an attractive and affordable option.

The Final Word

Despite being made from natural materials, the intense heat involved in the manufacture of ceramic tiles means that they are not biodegradable. So you need to make sure your old tiles do not end up in landfills.

The best method of tile disposal is to sell or donate unused tiles or to reuse and upcycle used or broken tiles.

Whilst it is possible to recycle a ceramic tile (contrary to what some people may believe) it is hard to find facilities that can make new tiles from recycled materials.

You can't just throw an old tile in the trash. Instead, make the effort and take your tiles to your local recycling facility, where they will be treated as construction waste.

With her Master of Science in Renewable Energy Engineering (MSREE) from Oregon Tech, Steph is supremely well qualified to write on all aspects of renewable energy. She has already achieved a zero carbon footprint and her goal is to help as many other people as possible do the same. Her other hobbies include music, yoga, swimming and horror movies.
Stephanie Cole
With her Master of Science in Renewable Energy Engineering (MSREE) from Oregon Tech, Steph is supremely well qualified to write on all aspects of renewable energy. She has already achieved a zero carbon footprint and her goal is to help as many other people as possible do the same. Her other hobbies include music, yoga, swimming and horror movies.

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