Dear Recyclebank: I’m finally cleaning out my closets to get rid of some old stuff, and I am not sure what to do with all of the chipped dishes and glass bowls I’ve held onto for so long. I don’t think it’s accepted in my town’s recycling, but is it safe to put them in with the trash? –Estelle D.
Dear Estelle: You’re probably correct — while a few curbside recycling programs, like Fort Worth’s, accept ceramics and non-container glass for recycling, many curbside programs don’t, chipped or not.
If the items in question are heat-treated glass, like Pyrex or Corningware, you should package them for disposal and put them in the garbage: It takes only five grams of heat-treated glass to contaminate an entire one-ton batch of recycled container glass, and damaged, heat-treated glass is unsafe for reuse.
According to Waste Management, the presence of ceramics like coffee mugs and plates in a batch of your typical, curbside-recyclable glass will weaken the recycled product, which is why ceramics aren’t usually accepted. This is unfortunate, because ceramic is technically recyclable. When recycled, ceramics are crushed to be used for drainage systems and rock base for driveways. They can also be broken and then spun to smooth the edges for use as gravel. Search online to see if you have a recycling yard near by — if its accepted materials includes brick or cement, then you might be in luck! Give them a call to see if they accept ceramics.
If your local recycling yard does not accept ceramics or non-container glass, your unwanted dinnerware’s final resting place still doesn’t have to be the landfill. Ceramics are almost always welcome at thrift stores or consignment shops for reuse. See if a local thrift shop will accept them, but be sure to tell the shopkeeper they are chipped before you hand them over — if the staff member is just going to toss the dishes in the dumpster after you walk out, then you’ve wasted your time in addition to your broken dishes.
If you’re feeling crafty, you can repair a chipped ceramic serving tray quite simply with some two-part epoxy and oil-based pastels. Follow this how-to guide for great results. Once the chip is fixed, perhaps you’ll fall in love all over again and find you’re not ready to let it go just yet. One quick search on Pinterest yields hundreds of clever upcyling ideas for your unused china. If the china/glassware is more than chipped, you can save the pieces and make a mosaic with them, or try one of these funky DIY ideas.
And if all of these landfill alternatives fail, your ceramics and glassware belong in the trash with your other waste items. For the safety of your sanitation workers, just make sure any sharp edges are cushioned, or place the chipped materials in a separate, labeled bag.