You don’t need to be a genius to determine the durability or biodegradability of ceramics. The industry, which is thought to be humankind's first, dates back to 24,000 BCE, and in 2012 archaeologists confirmed a piece of ancient pottery found in South China to be 20,000 years old. Though ceramic is hard wearing and long lasting, it’s sustainability and our conclusion on whether to use the material or not requires a much more holistic view.
Today, there are techniques that can make the practice a lot better for people’s health and the environment. We invite you to read-on and educate yourself about five key sustainability factors to consider before making your next pottery purchase. For each, we've also included a question for you to ask suppliers to help you with your decision.
1. Clay is a non-renewable resource
The raw material that is used for ceramics is made from natural minerals, soil and water. Though, most mass-manufactures actually use polymer clay (man-made material using a plastic base). In some countries, clay exploitation has become common practice for economic growth. To combat this, most Western governments have sustainability controls in place.
It’s also important to note here that when the raw material is glazed it effectively removes any organic matter and turns to stone, which geology tells us, can endure billions of years.
Question for suppliers: What type of clay do you use and where does it come from?
2. Low-waste studios exist
At any stage, before glazing, clay can be recycled. It is becoming more common for small modern studios to implement this low-waste strategy.
Question for suppliers: What low-waste strategies does your studio or manufacturer have in place?
3. Manufacturing ceramics requires about half the energy compared to plastic
Glazing / firing temperatures between 900 and 2750°C are needed to produce ceramics which is what requires the most energy. However, the manufacturing process, as a whole, requires approximately half the amount of energy compared to plastic.
Generally, ceramicists with the most experience will know how to save the most energy. If you are purchasing from a mass-production company then it’s likely that robots will be making and firing your products. Of course, economically speaking, it’s in their best interest to have energy controls in place.
Question for suppliers: What energy saving strategies do you implement?
4. Ceramics can be broken down into dust
Glazed ceramics will not decompose, however, they can be grinded down into dust. The dust can then be upcycled again to make clay. This process is not common due to the new material being much weaker.
Question for suppliers: Do you recycle fired products that are broken or don’t sell?
5. Non-toxic glazes can be used
Traditional ceramic glazes contain toxic chemicals that are extremely harmful to our health. Some studios are using non-toxic glazes, however safety precautions and expertise are still required to ensure the health and safety of ceramicists.
Question for suppliers: What health and safety precautions do you have in place for glazing?
We hope you’ve gained a better understanding of ceramic sustainability and how to be a conscious consumer when purchasing pottery.
And, for us? Modern Societies will use ceramics under the following circumstances:
Implement low-waste strategies.
Implement best practice health and safety precautions.
Use clay that comes from countries that have sustainability controls in place.
Actively seek out innovative methods to reduce their environmental impact.
Have knowledge of and are implementing minimal energy techniques.
Do not follow trends and are designed to be timeless.
Are the highest of quality.
See you in the next post!