This collaborative project provides a channel for artists to claim excavated clay, a byproduct of construction and industry, and put it to use in their work. 

“In the time it takes to read this article, 552 tonnes of excavation waste from the construction sector will have been sent to landfill in the UK.”1 Golden Earth Studio was born to bridge the gap between the construction industry and artists to explore creative ways to draw attention to this statistic. Our vision is to create value and discussions around a material that is typically discarded so that natural resources can be preserved. 

Seeking a New Resource 

Within the ceramics community, commercial bodies are predominately used. These will typically be composed of multiple finite minerals, that have been extracted and processed in various locations, before making their way to a studio or factory. Extraction of mined and quarried minerals often has negative social and ecological impacts, as experienced in the Kollam region in India. The community can no longer economically rely on the ceramics industry due to the scarcity of clay needed to manufacture bricks, yet cannot return to agriculture as a means of income as the land has been severely damaged by clay extraction.2 With a ceramic practice based in London—a city built on clay—the idea of working with a body using minerals sourced from all corners of the world, with a monumental amount of CO2 associated with transport, seemed a contradiction. 

Seeking materials with fewer miles, I began to engage with construction projects local to my studio. Identifying an abundance of clay as a byproduct from the excavation process, I wiggled my way via lots of emails to collect samples from sites to process and test. A few firings later, I had confirmed this clay was perfect for a ceramic body. My practice is solely focused on building symbiotic relationships with various industries, to establish a way of working without depletion. None has been more challenging than the construction industry. Establishing a consistent ongoing partnership was initially more work than reward. Not only were there challenges with syncing the timing of their process with my practice, but it was the navigation of legislations, and health and safety protocols that are predominant throughout their on-site work, that constantly faced me with barriers. 

1 Excavation from a property development in SW19 5DG, exposing clay formed 50 million years ago in the Eocene Age. 2 Excavation from a property development in SW19 5DG, exposing clay formed 50 million years ago in the Eocene Age (alternate view).

Whilst I understand why these protocols are in place to protect the wellbeing and lives of workers, I also believe one must re-evaluate these regulations to consider environmental impact. As with every industry, standards of practice need to evolve over time. Environmental and social factors must be acknowledged and addressed to ensure sending materials to a landfill is the last resort. As a consumer of clay, it felt frustrating to repeatedly work toward overcoming these boundaries to intercept the material. For the construction industry, disposing of excavation waste is a costly process due to the volume and weight. Some waste is sometimes discarded illegally to avoid disposal costs. 

Forming Golden Earth Studio 

Crossing paths with Gabriel Lau, a property developer from London, overcoming this barrier began to feel possible. Our conversation revolved around the crossover of clay in the industries we worked within, and the challenges previously faced in building symbiotic relationships. With a shared mindset and ambition to change what felt like a broken industry, we formed Golden Earth Studio and developed an action plan. Our first intervention began at Lau’s property developments in Wimbledon, London, facilitated through his company Golden Earth Developments. We gathered a team and tools and moved on site to process the excavated clay, ensuring we worked around the parameters required by the site manager. 

3 A Golden Earth Studio team member pouring the sieved clay slurry into suspended cotton bags to dehydrate. Photos: Gabriel Lau.

With a designated area on-site to process the clay, we broke it down and added water to form a slurry. We then sieved the liquid to remove organic materials and unwanted debris and poured the slurry into suspended tote bags to dehydrate. The clay formations date back to 50 million years ago from the Eocene Age, consisting of alternating clays and sands known as the Claygate Beds, where quartz is the most abundant mineral. We put a call out, inviting anyone to collect some free clay by coming on-site and taking as much as they could carry. This clay was planned to be sent off to the UK midlands to be used to form a golf course, some moving from site to site before ending up in a landfill. 

Artists, ceramic artists, researchers, community groups, and schools got their hands on the excavated clay, with testing and research taking place in various forms as everyone discovered how to incorporate it into their practices. We formed a community around the material, sharing test results that allowed everyone to build on each other’s knowledge. Refined artworks began to appear over the coming months and naturally, we brought the material full circle by installing the artworks in the very house the clay was extracted from. Eighteen months later we have installed several artworks in the same home, as well as other properties we reclaimed excavated clay from. As we continue to grow to utilizing art as the means of creating conversation, further emphasizing the issues at hand, Golden Earth Studio has transitioned into a gallery, facilitating the connection between artists and construction waste, to create beautiful works with a clear narrative between origination and installation. 

Overcoming Challenges 

This is a cycle, with many hurdles and challenges, that we hope to continue to overcome in the future. Making excavated clay accessible to those who consume it locally before it is sent off is a fundamental part of what we strive to achieve. These symbiotic relationships assist in forming the basis of a circular economy that preserves our natural resources and diverts waste away from landfills. 

4 Gabriel Lau and Sara Howard in their London studio. Photo: Kisa Watton. 5 Jacob Chan’s Ginger Jar, 12.6 in. (32 cm) in height, wheel thrown with Golden Earth Studio Clay, glazed in celadon. Photo: Jacob Chan.

As a ceramic artist reading this who is not local to Golden Earth Studio based in London, I encourage you to reach out to construction projects in your area and seek out excavated clay. Sometimes a conversation, a bucket, and a spade are all it takes. 

The methods of sourcing, processing, and substituting excavated clay from the construction industry for ceramic production are documented in Howard’s book, Circular Ceramics, available from

1 Initial statistic -Construction Products Association, February 2022,

2 Kollam, India- English Archives – Mathrubhumi, 29th August 2020,

the author Sara Howard is the co-founder of Golden Earth Studio and author of Circular Ceramics. Howard is a British-born ceramic artist working globally to source secondary materials destined for landfill, to replace virgin materials in ceramic production. Visit or @goldenearthstudio on Instagram to learn more. 

Topics: Ceramic Artists