ISO best practices for cleaning up broken glass outdoors
June 12, 2014 9:30 AM   Subscribe

I have a (potentially) lovely area in my yard where I'd like to put some patio furniture. Problem: it seems to have been used as a midden/trash heap at some point in the past. Things I've found there include old glass fuses, broken window glass, and old vacuum cleaner parts (some with tree roots growing right through them). I suspect the *right* way to fix it is to dig up and replace a few inches of the topsoil (or to pave it over), but I'm renting. I'm willing to put down a few inches of mulch, but I'd like to get as much of the glass up as I can beforehand. I've been picking it up by (gloved) hand but if anyone has any secret tips for locating and picking up broken glass off of dirt, I'd love to hear them!
posted by mskyle to Home & Garden (10 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
If you're looking for an easy-ish fix, I'd use a thatching rake to try to collect the glass and other detritus.

Otherwise, I'd just dig it up. It will be well worth the time and money.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 9:36 AM on June 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

Not sure this will work as well outdoors as indoors, but I've found that shining a flashlight parallel to the ground when it's dark will make glass shards much more visible. They light up like diamonds.
posted by sapere aude at 9:38 AM on June 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

Use raw potatoes.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:09 AM on June 12, 2014 [2 favorites]

Just use a decent-sized shop-vac.
posted by Slinga at 11:17 AM on June 12, 2014 [2 favorites]

Use a leaf blower to blow away all the loose dust, heavier things will remain.
posted by yohko at 11:32 AM on June 12, 2014

I'd make a sieve, dig up the area a shovelful at a time, run it through the sieve, then put the dirt back. I've rented many places, and this sort of thing -- particularly because it's an improvement in the long run -- doesn't raise landlord eyebrows. Plus, you never know -- you might find pennies or other valuables!
posted by AzraelBrown at 11:49 AM on June 12, 2014 [2 favorites]

Shop-vacs and potatoes won't work because stuff that's been there a while will be embedded into the ground. You'll need to at least overturn a couple of inches of dirt to loosen stuff up. Shovel-and-rake should make the worst of it visible. But if you aren't wanting to pick it up piece by piece, you'll have to do the sieve thing.

Depending on how much stuff is there, you may have to go deeper than you might expect. I find previously undiscovered bits of things after every heavy rain.

Pretend it's a treasure hunt and make up stories about what you find.
posted by sageleaf at 1:36 PM on June 12, 2014

Maybe you could put down a big piece of old carpet, or thick weed cloth even, over the glass, then put mulch on top of that? Or jus cover it with astroturf? I just don't think, shy of serious excavation, you'll get all the glass, and in a place you're only renting, how much effort do you want to spend?
posted by The otter lady at 2:32 PM on June 12, 2014

Your backyard sounds very much like MY backyard, when I moved into my house 15 years ago. Probably 1/4 of the yard had at one time been used as a dump. We spent weeks pulling up window glass, small car parts, broken crockery, wiring, Xmas ornaments, etc. Things were both scattered on the surface and embedded in the soil, so a shop vac was not an option for us. It was confounding and frustrating and just gross.

What happened was I found a landscaper in my neighborhood who suggested we turn the area into a huge flowerbed. This is what we did:

1. Pick up as many of the bigger bits as you can. Make peace with the idea that you will not be able to pick up everything.
2. Spray the area with weed killer.
3. Once all the weeds have croaked, put down newspaper over the area.
4. Dump planting soil/mulch over the newspaper.
5. Plant flowers.

This has worked really well for us. Once in a great while a bit of broken glass or something works its way to the surface, and I can just "pluck and chuck" while I'm weeding or watering.

I realize that you are a renter and this may be more work than you are willing to invest. But if you like the place and want to stay, it might be worth negotiating something with the landlord?
posted by That's Numberwang! at 2:53 PM on June 12, 2014

Response by poster: Although I'm renting, I intend to stay here at least a few years (or until my landlords die and their heirs realize the rent is well below market rate), so I'm willing to invest a fair amount of effort (although I don't have a lot of actual cash to spend on this project at the moment). I think some combination of continued pluck-and-chuck and a rake-sieve approach will be my next step, possibly followed by the weed cloth under mulch solution. I am not a very enthusiastic gardener, so I think a flower garden is probably unrealistic for me, though I can see how it would solve the problem!
posted by mskyle at 5:39 PM on June 12, 2014

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