The last time you had a filling or crown replaced, you may not have thought about what happens to the old materials the dentist takes from your mouth. Filling material contains metal, and so do many crowns. These materials aren’t just thrown away—they are recycled.

Hazardous vs. Non Hazardous Waste

Dental waste may include both hazardous and nonhazardous materials. Fillings, or amalgam, consist of a variety of metals. Some include mercury, which is dangerous to both human health and the environment. These are considered environmentally hazardous and must be disposed of in prescribed ways. 

Metals used for crowns are typically not considered hazardous. They consist of gold alloys and alloys of other metals such as chromium, nickel and palladium. Some porcelain crowns are fused to metal linings. Both hazardous and nonhazardous waste can be recycled through proper methods. 

Recycling Metals

Companies that recycle dental waste use specific methods to extract usable metals from dental waste. They first use high-tech tools to determine which metals are present. Some metals, like gold and platinum, are worth more than others.

Used filling material is put through a machine called an amalgam separator. This can separate out the valuable metals from hazardous materials like mercury. The valuable metals can be recycled and eventually reused for other purposes. The recycling process keeps metal out of landfills and complies with EPA regulations.

Saving Limited Resources

Recycling metals also saves limited resources. Recycled gold, particularly, can be easily salvaged and reused in infinite ways. Earth has only a limited supply of unmined gold left, and much of this is difficult to extract or causes environmental hazards to do so. Some methods use hazardous mercury to separate the gold from the ore. This is harmful to the environment and to miners.

Gold can be recycled again and again without losing its integrity or beauty. Even though dental gold is mixed with other metals, a recycling company that specializes in processing dental waste can efficiently separate out the gold and other valuable metals.

Dental practices must follow strict procedures when disposing of dental waste, and many of them choose to recycle. Individuals who lose crowns containing metal can also make use of recycling companies. Like other types of recycling, dental waste recycling is environmentally-friendly. Most companies will pay for used dental metals.

Learn more about how dental practices and individuals can recycle dental waste at this link.