Consumers are continuing to upgrade their antiquated televisions and computers to streamlined models that are light enough to mount on a wall or carry in a backpack. But the old, hefty equipment, replete with glass, metal, lead, and other toxic materials, has to go somewhere—which often translates to landfills. One building product manufacturer is looking to limit that waste by incorporating some of it—the thick cathode-ray-tube (CRT) glass found in the screens of older TVs and computers—into its products. In February, San Francisco, Calif.–based Fireclay Tile plans to launch a line of backsplash tiles and coasters made of the material and a white pigment. EcoBuilding Pulse talked with the company’s founder and chief ceramicist Paul Burns about the decision to use recycled CRT glass and the product’s crowd-funded launch.

Why did Fireclay decide to make tiles from CRT glass?
The thing with recycling and sustainability is that it’s always a moving target. Our mission here is to work with things that are truly going to landfill, that don’t have a better use. We’re always on the lookout for what is currently in the waste stream that we could use to make a beautiful product. Right now, there’s a huge need to recycle CRT glass. It makes a really beautiful looking tile, too. It has a little bit of flecking and a luster.

How are the tiles made?
We get chunks of CRT glass from an electronic waste recycling company, ECS Refining in Santa Clara, Calif. The company runs the glass through a saw to separate the front, middle, and back sections, [the latter of] which has a lot of heavy metals in it. We use the front of the screen—it’s about three-quarters of an inch [thick]. We’re not just smashing up old television sets in the backyard. There are toxicology concerns. We require a very detailed chemical analysis of the glass to know exactly what’s there and that it’s safe. We crush the chunks of the front part of the screen and demagnetize the material. Then we cast our tiles in the molds.

Tell us more about the molds.
We make them ourselves from a refractory material that can withstand high heat and be used over and over again. Making our own molds allows us to change the shape and size of the tiles in the future. The material can handle temperatures of 1,600 F to 1,700 F, and they cycle in and out of the ovens two or three times a day and last about a year.

You launched the product on Kickstarter to help pay for the molds and met the funding goal—why did you take this approach?
It was a fun and easy way to get more personal involvement and make people aware of what we’re doing. We handle, on average, about 250 custom orders every month, so we really like to make things for people one at a time, but we never involved them in the process. We went over our $10,000 funding goal in four days.


Image courtesy Flickr user JasonParis via a Creative Commons license. 


Editor's note: This article has been updated to clarify that the tiles are made of recycled CRT glass and a white pigment, not a colored resin. We regret the error.