Recycling Asbestos: Guide to Safe Asbestos Handling

Don't let asbestos jeopardize your well-being. Check these methods for recycling asbestos safely.

By Maryruth Belsey-Priebe

Fact checked by Sander Tamm

Recycling Asbestos-Guide to Safe Asbestos Handling
Recycling Asbestos: Guide to Safe Asbestos Handling

It’s not something we like to think about, but asbestos has been used in many products throughout our modern history and still lingers in households around the world. As a known carcinogen, asbestos is considered a household hazardous waste (HHW) product and is no longer permitted to be used in most developed countries (developing countries still use it extensively, unfortunately), but that doesn’t mean we’re free of it!

This article covers the following:

  1. Where can I find asbestos?
  2. Safe methods for handling asbestos
  3. Innovative technologies for recycling asbestos

Where can I find asbestos?

There are many places you may find asbestos in your life, including:

  • Adhesives
  • Artificial ashes and embers in gas-fired fireplaces
  • Cement pipes
  • Door gaskets
  • Electrical equipment
  • Floor tiles
  • Heat-resistant fabrics
  • Insulating boards
  • Paper products
  • Pipe insulation
  • Roof shingles
  • Soundproofing material
  • Talc products
  • Textured wall surfaces
  • Transmission and brake parts for automobiles
  • Vermiculite products

When in good condition, existing asbestos doesn’t likely pose much of a risk to you and your family. However disturbing asbestos during a home remodeling project or demolition can stir the pot, making asbestos fibers airborne.

Safe methods for handling asbestos

If you’re concerned that there are asbestos-containing products in your home, there are things you can do to protect yourself and your family.

  • Identify asbestos: Follow the US Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) guidelines to identify and protect from asbestos.
  • Do not handle yourself: Damaged or loose asbestos can be easily inhaled or come into contact with your skin and so should be avoided if at all possible. Follow these safe handling methods to ensure that you do not expose yourself to this material unnecessarily.
  • Hire a pro: In many cases, an asbestos professional will need to be called in to inspect and handle the disposal of potential materials. In the US, the EPA manages a list of state agencies with the most up-to-date Accredited Asbestos Professionals, but you may be able to find a professional in your area to remove asbestos by looking online or in the yellow pages.

In case you are interested in U.S. standards and regulations for asbestos levels, check the “Environmental Health and Medicine Education” page from ATSDR (Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry).    

Innovative technologies for recycling asbestos

Today, there are technologies to recycle asbestos into harmless silicate glass using thermal decomposition at very high temperatures. This can then be turned into stoneware and ceramic products of various types.

Another way of recycling asbestos is the microwave thermal technique (MTT) or using a high-speed milling machine to transform asbestos fibers into non-hazardous minerals. 

In the event of recycling asbestos, check with your local HHW collection programs to see whether they accept asbestos for recycling, or search online to find an asbestos shingle or siding recycler in your area.