The Three Little Pigs will be the first to tell you that brick is a reliable building material, used to create everything from walls to chimneys to firepits. But what do you do with leftover brick after the job is done, or with any chipped or cracked bricks that you end up replacing? Is brick recycling an option?

Brick can be recycled along with construction and demolition (C&D) waste, which includes other building products like carpet, concrete, drywall, shingles and wood. But for consumers looking to dispose of only a few bricks, reuse is probably the more viable option.

What Is Brick?

One of the important factors when determining the recycling market for a material is to identify how it’s made. Bricks are a mix of sand, clay and lime that is cooked in a kiln and bonded with mortar. Sand is the primary ingredient in another product we recycle every day: glass.

One of the key benefits of building with brick is that it is fire- and water-resistant, making it ideal for withstanding natural disasters on the outside of your house. Unfortunately, the recycling process for most materials involves melting them down (e.g., glass, metal, plastic) or blending with water (paper), and the melting point of brick is 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit, which complicates the recycling process.

Why Recycle Brick?

While it’s difficult to find statistics on individual C&D materials, the Construction & Demolition Recycling Association has numbers on the general C&D waste stream. CDRA estimates that in the U.S., we produced 290 million tons of bulk aggregate construction waste in 2014 (including brick), and 85 percent of it was recovered for recycling.

C&D waste is one of the larger components (by weight) of the U.S. waste stream, and material like brick is unlikely to break down in a landfill because it is designed for long life and to endure sunlight and heat.

Plus, if you live in Massachusetts or Portland, Oregon, it’s actually against the law to put brick in landfills, so you’ll need to recycle or reuse them.

Brick Reuse Options

Creating a brick walkway for your garden is one way to reuse bricks. Photo: Adobe Stock

Before you even consider brick recycling, you should try to reuse them for other purposes. Here are a few reuse suggestions:

  1. Use them as a weight in your yard to hold down tarps or other light materials from blowing away in the wind.
  2. Build a brick walkway in your garden, or use them as edging to prevent your existing paths from flooding.
  3. Put them under your water heater to prevent damage in case of flooding.
  4. Build your own backyard installations, like benches, firepits and waterfalls.

Most of these reuse projects won’t require the bricks to be intact or in pristine condition. Another option for newer bricks is to donate them to a Habitat for Humanity ReStore. Each ReStore collects different types of materials, so you’ll want to call your local ReStore to verify whether bricks are accepted.

How to Recycle Bricks

Unfortunately, bricks and other C&D materials aren’t going to be accepted in your curbside recycling program. For consumers with small quantities, a C&D recycler will be less likely to take your bricks unless you are willing to drop them off. You can use Earth911’s recycling directory to find local brick recycling centers.

Many people who have bricks to dispose will have used a contractor, and C&D recyclers will be more willing to accept materials from businesses in bulk. Many states maintain a list of C&D recyclers for contractors to use, as does CDRA.

Once the brick is collected, there are a few options for recycling. It can be crushed into gravel-size pieces and used as ground cover for yards or as a substitute for mulch. Sioux City Brick in Iowa crushes bricks into powder, which can be used on baseball diamonds, running tracks or tennis courts. The Brick Industry Association also claims that most brick manufacturers use recycled content when making new bricks, which likely comes from recycling old bricks.

Feature image courtesy of Adobe Stock

By Trey Granger

Trey Granger is a former senior waste stream analyst for Earth911.