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Sustainable ceramics

One thing I love about working in ceramics is that there's very little waste! All the scraps and throwing disasters can be recycled simply by collecting together, reconstituting with a little water and elbow grease and it's ready to go again. As long as the clay hasn't been fired, it can be re-used. Phew! Not only is it cost effective, it helps save the planet. It also takes the pressure off of having to achieve perfection every time for fear of wasting the clay! We all have off days and I've had a few of those recently. I went back to throwing a bowl shape that I hadn't done for a while and I just couldn't get it right. I thought the clay was too soft so I left it for another day. It took a while of wedging the clay on a plaster batt to draw out some of the moisture and attempt number two before I finally managed. Was it the clay or was it me? So glad that it didn't mean wasting any clay anyway.

This very short video shows me recycling clay. I was actually combining two clays here but this is what you do if you've got a lot of old clay and need to prepare it to use again. It's a good way to get an even consistency if you've got harder and softer bits of clay as the layers are multiplied with each stack and slam. The chocolate coloured clay is actually raw clay dug straight from the ground and I'm mixing it with my bought clay to create a new clay body. I'm really enjoying using this clay. Read more about the process on the website under 'Bhante Clay Process'.

One aspect of making ceramics which unfortunately does use a substantial amount of energy is firing. Sadly, I don't know that much can be done to prevent this, apart from firing at lower temperatures if possible. A glaze firing in an electric kiln takes approximately 12 hours. I have found that I am able to achieve satisfactory results with slightly lower temperatures. I'm firing the Bhante clay objects to 1220ºC which is about as much heat as the clay can handle. My work which used to be fired at 1260ºC is now firing at 1240ºC and seems to be fine for it. Porcelain is the biggy though at 1280ºC, I have been firing it at 1260ºC for the last few years and even 1240ºC sometimes. I guess it depends on how translucent you want the porcelain to be. My Oribe green porcelain tea bowls do well at the lower temperature as they're not very fine.

I source all my clay and glaze materials from UK suppliers so there's no need to ship or fly anything in.

Packaging is another obvious area of potential waste especially if using bubble wrap. Of course I would never compromise the safety of the piece especially when shipping so I do still use some bubble wrap if I have to. There's a greater choice of recyclable packaging materials on the market nowadays so that's brilliant. I do use as much paper and cardboard as possible and I feel better for knowing I'm doing what I can to minimise the effects of too much plastic in the seas. I like to recycle as much old packaging as I can if it's in fairly good nick but I don't want my parcels to look too shabby. It's always nice to open a parcel that is perfectly and pristinely wrapped. What do you think? What's more important to you?


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