search  current discussion  categories  business - studios 

clay for studio potters

updated sun 4 nov 07


Joseph Herbert on sat 3 nov 07

Karen Groves expressed some concern about the environmental impact of clay

Studio pottery supplies are but a small boil on the copious cheek of
industrial ceramics and other uses for clay. While our individual concerns
for environmental stewardship are admirable and important, the little bits
of clay and fuel that we use as potters are really insignificant compared to
industrial users. While I have not actually made the calculation, it is not
unimaginable that the paper in one printing run of Playboy magazine contains
as much porcelain as a studio potter uses in several years (or perhaps a
lifetime). The clay that Proctor & Gamble uses as filler in its various
products in a day would make the Playboy use look small.

In 2006 some 7.7 million metric tons of Kaolin were produced in the US. 61%
of that was used in paper production. An ambitious studio potter might use
1 metric ton (2023 pounds) of kaolin per year. On a percentage basis, this
is an incredibly small amount. One studio potter's lifetime consumption of
kaolin is equal to the amount of clay in a month's worth of Time or
Newsweek. Just not really significant.

We can and should be as concerned as we can be about our individual uses of
materials and energy. Proper insulation of homes and consciousness of
recycling, when practiced by a significant part of a population can make
large differences in our impact on the planet. However, the use of clay (as
opposed to use of energy) by studio potters is not a place where even the
total population (all studio potters) could make much difference. On the
other hand, the total clay production in the US is from only 800 locations.

One comment on the difference between point and diffuse sources of
pollution. The classic example is the use of coal for home heating in
London. Every home had a fire grate and they all burned coal. The coal was
high sulfur and so every one of the thousands of residences in London were
significant contributors to the Pea soup fogs (smogs) that eventually got
bad enough to kill. Changing to electric heating from central power
stations that had pollution controls made all the difference in the
character of London fogs. An interesting sidelight to this situation is the
use of natural gas to power generating stations. Using up the cleanest fuel
for point source electrical generation (that could use other fuels and
install pollution controls) when it is a fuel with few alternatives for home
heating seems stupid. But such is the character of the free market, not
looking beyond the current dollar to see that abyss just over the horizon.


Joseph Herbert
Technical Writer
Irving, Texas
214-725-8305 (Cell)