Sunday, October 31, 2010

Echo-Ceramics?

Still, I ponder the question of being green! The comments to my previous post have been very insightful and my roving/surfing eye has been led to this post by Laura Zindel from 2007 on Diana Fayt's blog!! There is very little that I can really add to this very thorough post except to share some of my own personal thoughts, so here goes.

A comment by David Carter on the Eco-Salon blog post summed it up for me,
"The most persuasive argument for pottery being green is its longevity."
Yes, once fired, a pot is pretty much here to stay, much like other synthetics, you know, the kind with numbers on their bottoms. Yes, ceramics was the very first synthetic material! Twink twice before firing that second! A fired ceramic mug may take a lot of natural resources to become what it is, but once made and kept out of harm's way can last for centuries! My friend Beth Schaible carries one wherever she goes to use over and over.

A while back I blogged about reclaiming clay. I guess it doesn't make sense when looking strictly at the bottom line, and yes, I guess if I were to just dump it it would just go back into some geological mix, but there are hidden costs. I'm not an economist, but it seems to me that most people buy clay that has been transported over many miles from the point of extraction, the point of manufacturer, and then to our shops to be formed. That's a lot of moving around! Much of this clay is highly processed. These processes all involve oil, gasoline, etc. I guess one of my motivations to reclaim clay is that it doesn't use any additional energy except my own and then maybe the small amount of electricity to run my pug mill for a half hour.

As I review my own practice a couple of things really flare up.

  • bisque firing my work
  • small-one person studio model
  • use of extracted materials and metals for glazes/slips
  • use of water when processing local clay
All of these points can be improved on, of course.
There really isn't any reason to bisque fire my work, except that my wax resist just doesn't work on bone dry or leather hard clay. I've tried. Should I pursue another resist technique? Or another decorative approach?

The small one person studio is such a poor model for efficiency. When people share the resources of space, materials, kilns, it is more eco-nomical, and eco-friendly. Maybe a community kiln is a good start?

The materials I choose to use are mostly local, but I do use a small amount of manganese, copper and cobalt in my wax and glazes. Manganese come from South Africa, China, and Gabon. Although a mine in Salida Colorado also extracts the ore. Chile is the world's largest miner of copper, followed by the U.S., China, and Peru. Congo is the world's leader in cobalt extraction, followed by Zambia, and Canada. I happen to live a county that produces the most feldspar in the country, yet I buy it from the supplier in Asheville, an hour away. This should be easier, but the distribution chain doesn't necessarily include my Ford pickup. Maybe this could be an easy fix with the right contact. I'll get back to you on this one.

When I process my clay I use a fair amount of water to hydrate and blunge. I do tap off the excess from my barrels after the clay has settled to use on subsequent batches, but still we're talking about 40 gallons of water for every 200 lbs of clay, by my best estimate. I do have rain catching barrels(buckets) to catch water for my day to day uses since I have no plumbing in the shop. This is fine for most of the year, but in the coldest months I have to carry water from the house.

I guess I have some work to do to improve my own sustainability. The economics are tricky, especially in these times. But maybe folks truly want to support a local, green, sustainable practice. Whether these issues trump the artistry of my pottery remains to be seen. I think artistry and sustainability coexist quite nicely now, and can be improved upon with improved awareness and desire to be a better potter and a better person living on this earth.

That's all I have for today. There are pots awaiting my attention up the hill. Maybe this post could continue as a series? I may not be the best person qualified and it feels like there is a lot to discuss and figure out. But if you lend us your thoughts, we can move this ball down the field.