If you’ve ever renovated a bathroom, you’ve probably faced the challenge of recycling porcelain fixtures. Whether it’s a toilet, sink, or even porcelain tile, recycling these items can prove problematic.
Because most individuals don’t generate a steady stream of porcelain for recycling, regular recycling programs haven’t evolved. Most recycling takes place at the manufacturing level, or recyclers get their materials from landfills.
How Is Recycled Porcelain Used?
There are a few things that can be done with recycled porcelain. Toto, a manufacturer of toilets, sinks, and other plumbing fixtures is one company that leads the way in porcelain recycling.
As a sustainable company, they recognized the need to recycle the products that failed quality control — rather than throw them away. To do this, they with a local tile manufacturer. Now, a portion of their products that can’t be sold is recycled into porcelain tile.
Another option they explored was crushing up the porcelain and selling it to construction companies to use as a backfill in construction projects or as an aggregate base for road construction. And New York’s Department of Environmental Protection used crushed porcelain toilets to construct oyster beds and bioswales to collect New York City stormwater.
Unfortunately, it’s often not easy to find a porcelain recycling option in your area. The best thing to do is to call your local city or county waste department and ask about available recycling options. If that proves ineffective, you can also reach out to a local renovation or construction company that focuses on being environmentally friendly; they might have suggestions to help you.
Recycling Toilets and Sinks
If you’re lucky enough to have a porcelain recycling option in your area, there are a few things you should do to prepare your toilet before you recycle it. First, you should clean and disinfect the toilet. Next, remove parts that aren’t porcelain like the seat, handle, and internal components in the tank. Make sure the water is turned off before you remove the toilet.
With sinks, you’ll want to follow the same steps as above. You’ll clean and disinfect it. Then remove the fixtures that are attached to the sink. It may take a bit of muscle to remove the sink before you can dispose of it properly.
If your porcelain fixtures are in good shape, your best solution is to sell or donate them. Many reuse stores, such as Habitat for Humanity ReStores, will take construction supplies that are in good shape. Some locations will take sinks, bathtubs, and even toilets. Call before stopping by to verify they will accept the items you have. If your porcelain fixtures aren’t chipped or stained, this is one of the best options to take.
Note that the metal components you remove from the fixture — such as the faucet and water taps — might also be reusable if in good shape. If they’re not, you can likely recycle them as scrap metal. Use the Earth911 Recycling Search to find scrap metal recycling in your area. You may want to combine your load with a friend’s — if you don’t have a lot of scrap metal to recycle — to make the trip worth your while.
Recycling Porcelain Tiles
Recycling porcelain tiles can prove challenging for the exact same reasons it’s hard to recycle toilets, sinks, and tubs. Fortunately, there are ways to reuse and repurpose porcelain tile.
Traditionally, when you remove tile, you break it up into little pieces and then remove the pieces. But if you are able to remove the tiles whole without breaking them, you can sell them or give them away to Habitat for Humanity so someone else can reuse them.
Removing tiles without breaking them can be a time-consuming project. You may want to watch a few tutorials on how to best remove porcelain tiles without breaking them before you undertake the process on your own.
If you do have to break up the tiles when removing them, consider using the broken tile in a DIY decor project for your home. For inspiration, check out these projects for using broken tiles from Architecture Art Design. Also, WikiHow has step-by-step instructions for making a mosaic from broken tiles.
While recycling porcelain fixtures and tiles can be incredibly challenging, if you search around in your community you may be lucky enough to find someone who is recycling them — or someone who can reuse them.
Originally published on March 6, 2019, this article was updated in March 2022.