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Sustainability in Ceramics: Something to think about as a ceramicist in todays world

Ceramics is a timeless and beloved art form that has been around for thousands of years. From ancient pottery to modern sculptures, ceramics has always had a special place in our hearts and homes. However, with the growing awareness of the impact of human activities on the environment, makers in the ceramics community have started to question the sustainability of their practices.

Photo: Studio Neda Rajabi

The production of ceramics can be resource-intensive and produce a significant amount of waste. For example, traditional ceramics production often requires large amounts of energy for firing and glazing, as well as the use of toxic chemicals for glazing and coloring. Additionally, the transportation of raw materials and finished products can contribute to greenhouse gas emissions and contribute to environmental degradation.

However, despite these challenges, there is a growing movement towards sustainability in ceramics. Artists, makers, and studios are now adopting eco-friendly practices and using sustainable materials to minimize their impact on the environment. Some of the ways they are doing this include:

  • Using sustainable and locally sourced materials: Many ceramists are using sustainable materials, such as recycled clay and locally sourced materials, to reduce their carbon footprint. This not only helps to conserve resources but also supports local economies.

  • Adopting low-waste and low-energy production methods: By using low-waste and low-energy production methods, ceramists can reduce their impact on the environment while also producing high-quality pieces. For example, many artists are now using electric kilns and solar-powered kilns to reduce energy consumption. Another way of reducing energy usage is one time firing. Manufacturers like Endeka UK have launched energy efficient, low temperature glaze and clay body range, some of the clay bodies can be glazed before firing, allowing you to fire only once. With increased gas and electricity prices this innovation supports the environment and your wallet at the same time.

  • Incorporating sustainable design principles: In addition to using sustainable materials and production methods, ceramists are now incorporating sustainable design principles into their work. This includes designing pieces that are functional, long-lasting, and easily recyclable, as well as pieces that are made to last a lifetime rather than disposable items.

  • Raising awareness and educating others: By raising awareness about the importance of sustainability in ceramics, and by educating others about eco-friendly practices, ceramists can help to drive change and create a more sustainable future.

  • Mindfulness and creativity in the process: Creating a self-critical approach to firing your work can help reduce the amount of firings in total. Understanding that not every created objects needs to be kept can help reduce firings and landfill in the long run. Finding appreciation in the process itself rather than only in the physical outcome is a first step into more sustainable making. Artists like Phoebe Cummings address the ephemeral and the fleeting moment with their unfired clay works that only exist for a certain period of time and inspire the audience even without firing the work.

When it comes to the use of plastic in the ceramic process, especially in relation to sustainability it can get difficult. In general, using plastic wrap as a way to keep clay soft is a common and effective method, but as a synthetic material it is not necessarily the most environmentally sustainable option. We all know plastic wrap as a single-use plastic product that can take hundreds of years to decompose, even if used multiple times, it can contribute to plastic pollution in the environment in a long run. Airtight containers or damp cloth can be alternatives to keeping clay soft, but might create mould over time. I am curious to learn what your methods are, that respect your health as much as the environment.

In conclusion, sustainability in ceramics is a growing movement that is gaining momentum in the art and craft world. From using sustainable materials to adopting low-waste and low-energy production methods, many artists, makers, and studios are now making a conscious effort to minimize their impact on the environment. By working together, we can create a more sustainable future for ceramics and for the planet. Drop me a message to share what you are doing to assure a more sustainable ceramic process, so I can share it with the community.

This blog post was written by Anke Buchmann in collaboration with ChatGPT. / 11.02.2023

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