Let’s Have a Discussion: Sustainability in the Ceramic Studio

Patio paver blocks and bricks made from recycled clay and glaze waste, installed on the campus of the University of Oregon.

 

Let’s face it, the ceramic medium by it’s very nature is not a very green artform, but fortunately, there are a lot of simple things that can be done in the studio to lesson the impact on the planet. In the article below, you’ll hear about the efforts of three university ceramics programs that are making great strides in the area of sustainability. – Jennifer Harnetty, editor.


There is growing recognition of the need to align our studio practice with an awareness of environmental sustainability. Individuals and groups are already engaging with green issues in studio ceramics and are devising, enacting, and posting solutions. The National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts (NCECA) Green Task Force has been working for the past two years towards oversight of practical stewardship at the annual conference and to assist in the over all exchange of ideas and information that minimize the global impact of our field. The discussion must involve the entire community, including the perspectives of individuals, educators, students, and manufacturers. This article takes a look at three examples of sustainable ceramic practice in university ceramic programs.


The University of Oregon

This four-bucket system at the University of Oregon is designed for capturing all glaze waste, which is then used, along with recycled clay, to make paver bricks.

The University of Oregon (UO) in Eugene has a long history of engaging in environmentally responsible ceramic studio practice. For more than ten years, students in the ceramics department have been participating in a system set up to capture glaze waste, including heavy metal colorants, combine them with recycled clay, form this into paver blocks, and fire them to cone 1. The glaze waste recycling system grew out of dialog between faculty, staff, and community about ways to reduce the environmental impacts of the art program. The work began in the mid-1990s as a result of the efforts of Professor Sana Krusoe and then graduate student Nancy Frazier. Krusoe stated that she “learned about waste conservation from Gordon Ward, a local potter, who used one glaze, kept all his rinse water, and converted it back to glaze.” Initially, glaze waste was consolidated, tested, and donated for use in area public schools. However, an excess of glaze waste remained. Faculty, staff, and graduate students at the University of Oregon had been contemplating ways to work towards reducing waste. When the task of recycling a backlog of glaze waste was given to Frazier, she began the process of making usable paver brick and recruited student volunteers to dehydrate, mix, shape, and test fire different ratios of clay to glaze waste.

There is no running water in the glaze room at the University of Oregon. Instead, the students are required to wear gloves and utilize a series of four rinse buckets, with each in the sequence cleaner than the last. There is a primary system set up to collect standard glaze materials and a secondary series of receptacles to collect the soluble glaze materials. The insoluble glaze materials are allowed to settle, and then the water is siphoned off. The resulting glaze slurry is combined with waste clay at a 1:1 ratio. The smaller quantity of material collected in the soluble bins is allowed to dehydrate back into salts and then it also is added to the mix. The “brick mix” is formed into perforated blocks and fired to cone 1 for use as pavers. Heavy rainfall common during winter in the Oregon valley makes the paver blocks highly desirable, and the first blocks were immediately put to use around the facility. The pavers are about 10 inches square and 2 inches thick and usually fire to a strong apricot.

Today, the blocks are donated to members of the larger community in and around the university. The students learn about the importance of environmental stewardship and generosity as part of the total curricula. Professor Krusoe’s class in glaze chemistry participates in the waste reclamation process from start to finish. Often, the first objects that beginning ceramics students fire in the UO program are the paver blocks. This allows new students to quickly get involved and learn about the firing process while simultaneously recycling the glaze waste. The graduate studio technician and work-study students are also involved in processing the materials in order to maintain the efficiency of the system.

For those interested in establishing a glaze waste recycling program, Krusoe advises removing or boarding up the sink and putting up clear signage for the new recycling network. Users will adapt to the system. The ceramics department conserves all glaze waste, including mop water. Krusoe states: “We model a way of behaving around glaze materials that they can easily replicate in personal studios or introduce in a workplace. It has been valuable to us to offer an encyclopedic array of glazes and materials in an environment of rigorous safety and environmental protocols.”

Humboldt State University

Since 2008, Humboldt State University (HSU) in Arcata, California, has been collecting the fired ceramic waste generated by students at the end of each semester for recycling. T.C. Comet, the sustainability coordinator at HSU, saw the opportunity to divert masonry compatible ceramic and sculpture waste for use in general construction. Their system is set up with several 55-gallon collection barrels, themselves recycled from previous use on campus, to collect the ceramic and sculpture waste. The masonry waste is then taken to Kernen Construction, a local company that accepts concrete and masonry debris on an ongoing basis from the community. The company crushes and grinds masonry waste, including old sinks and toilets, for use in building foundations and as road aggregate. Crushing occurs whenever the debris pile grows large enough-usually two to three times each year.

Overall, the university saves money with this system, as solid waste disposal rates per ton far exceed the cost of transporting the masonry debris to the recycling site. State universities in California fall under the Integrated Waste Management Act, which requires all large state agencies to divert a minimum of 50 percent of solid waste from disposal facilities since January of 2004. Many universities in California have a sustainability coordinator to aid in making connections toward greening the campus. Strong student support for progressive environmental policy has been instrumental in meeting the mandate.

<p>Shippensburg University's drip feed system for Waste Vegetable Oil (WVO) is fed by a barrel placed several feet above the burner height to allow for a gravity feed.</p>

Shippensburg University’s drip feed system for Waste Vegetable Oil (WVO) is fed by a barrel placed several feet above the burner height to allow for a gravity feed.

The recuperative chimney on one of Shippensburg University's kilns reclaims heat from the exterior of the chimney and the warm air is used with the drip plate burner system to enhance fuel combustion.

The recuperative chimney on one of Shippensburg University’s kilns reclaims heat from the exterior of the chimney and the warm air is used with the drip plate burner system to enhance fuel combustion.

The biodiesel burner and blast tube for vegetable fuel kiln at Shippensburg University (see diagram below).

The biodiesel burner and blast tube for vegetable fuel kiln at Shippensburg University (see diagram below).

Shippensburg University

Ben Culbertson, professor at Shippensburg University in Pennsylvania, has been working to create a system that utilizes renewable fuels to fire a kiln from start to finish. After observing a wood/vegetable oil firing at the Archie Bray Foundation for the Ceramic Arts during a workshop by Allegheny Meadows and Michael Connelly in 2004, Culbertson began processing waste vegetable oil from the Shippensburg campus food service into biodiesel fuel for vehicles, home heating, and experimental firing. He received a grant in 2009 from the University Foundation at Shippensburg to continue to conduct research on burner systems for use with vegetable-oil-based fuels for kiln firing and BNZ Materials generously donated firebrick seconds to the project for kiln construction.

Currently, research and development continue in the test chamber and the 30-cubic-foot cross-chamber kiln with multi-fuel burner system built by Culbertson and his students. Vegetable oil, biodiesel, and glycerin are being tested for use as the primary fuel. The kiln was engineered to work with several different burner types. Thus far, the kiln has been successfully fired in less than eight hours to cone 10 on approximately 20 gallons of biodiesel using modified oil burners. In the next round of tests, Culbertson expects fuel requirements will be further reduced by the utilization of a recuperative air system that was designed into the kiln in order to harvest heat around the chimney pipe for use to preheat intake air.

Alternative Electrical Sources for Vegetable Fuel Oil Burner With the help of a few basic electrical devices and some ingenuity, Ben Culbertson and the students at Shippensburg University can use either human power or solar power to run the pump and blower for the two oil burners that fire one of their kilns.

Alternative Electrical Sources for Vegetable Fuel Oil Burner With the help of a few basic electrical devices and some ingenuity, Ben Culbertson and the students at Shippensburg University can use either human power or solar power to run the pump and blower for the two oil burners that fire one of their kilns.

Additional exploration is ongoing with a drip-plate burner system and also a basic Babington burner setup that utilizes an integral combustion chamber with a source of forced air. Perhaps most inspiring is the work Culbertson is doing exploring the use of solar cells to charge a small battery bank and human bicycle power for a small DC motor to support the secondary power needs for blowers and burners, thus completely eliminating the need for grid-based power and fossil fuels. The oil burners have an oil pump, blower, and igniter that require electricity to run. For solar, a two-part system consisting of a 12-volt battery and an inverter to convert to 110-volt alternating current will allow the burners to operate. Culbertson’s team has successfully tested the 12-volt battery to run the burners. Preliminary testing has begun with a bicycle-powered generator using a small Ametek DC motor, conventionally used in wind-power generation, that has been shown to produce adequate wattage and amperage to run the pumps and blowers. Two students exercising on the bikes during the maximum three hour kiln preheat period would meet all energy needs before the vegetable-oil drip-plate system, with no electricity requirements, would take over to complete the rest of the firing. Culbertson will be presenting his extensive research at the lecture entitled “Vegetable Oil Based Alternative Fuel Burner Systems” on April 2, 2010 at the NCECA conference in Philadelphia.

For students, faculty, and individuals interested in researching and developing alternative energy sources for firing, Culbertson offers this advice: “There are several phases in the process and it is often hard work. You will need people driven by purpose. While fossil fuels remain relatively cheap, all the work on alternative fuel will be rendered novel or lose its luster without the commitment that what we are doing is a sacred task. It is not hyperbole to say the earth is at stake. This purpose will help you endure the indignities of grease stained clothing and its commensurate odors.”

University educators and students have the opportunity to work together to innovate on current policies and generate new solutions as to how we conduct ourselves in the world. The University of Oregon, Humboldt State University, and Shippensburg University provide examples through current practice of some concrete actions that we can take today in order to change our collective behavior. It is necessary at all levels of society that we continually engage in this conversation and put the best solutions to work for us.


the author Kristin Schimik is a graduate student at the University of Florida in Gainesville, and has been serving as the NCECA Green Task Force Student Representative since 2008. At NCECA Philadelphia, she and other members of the Green Task Force will be gathering solutions and ideas from members for a future NCECA publication. Take a moment to stop by the NCECA booth at the conference to contribute your green suggestions, research, and practice for the NCECA Green Resource Guide or join the conversation online at www.ncecagtf.com.

Comments
  • I think this is a great way to get rid of my buckets of slop clay. Is it important to have a good mix of clays. I use a cone 6 throwing clay and a smaller amount of grogged sculpture mix and a smaller amount of red earthenware.

    Also is firing to cone 1 good enough in an area where there is extreme freezing and thawing. Our winter temperatures drop to -20cto -30c but then go up to a thaw and back again.

    Great article. Thanks
    Joan

  • I think this is a great way to get rid of my buckets of slop clay. Is it important to have a good mix of clays. I use a cone 6 throwing clay and a smaller amount of grogged sculpture mix and a smaller amount of red earthenware.

    Also is firing to cone 1 good enough in an area where there is extreme freezing and thawing. Our winter temperatures drop to -20cto -30c but then go up to a thaw and back again.

    Great article. Thanks
    Joan

  • Joan, These are good questions. Perhaps someone in the Ceramic Arts Community Forums has some feedback or answers. Jen has started a discussion about this very topic, and I’ll be interested to see what others have done in their studios as well:
    /community/index.php?/topic/253-sustainability-in-the-studio/
    Sherman

  • Joan, These are good questions. Perhaps someone in the Ceramic Arts Community Forums has some feedback or answers. Jen has started a discussion about this very topic, and I’ll be interested to see what others have done in their studios as well:
    /community/index.php?/topic/253-sustainability-in-the-studio/
    Sherman

  • I live in Winnipeg, Manitoba,Canada and leave my plant pots ^6 outside in the winter tuned upside down to prevent moisture sitting inside the bottom. I haven’t had a breakage yet.

    Joyce

  • I live in Winnipeg, Manitoba,Canada and leave my plant pots ^6 outside in the winter tuned upside down to prevent moisture sitting inside the bottom. I haven’t had a breakage yet.

    Joyce

  • I have had breakage of cone 6 pieces left out for the winter (Michigan) with thaw & freeze action. I wonder, too, about bricks that are weight-bearing in walkways. Great idea. I’d love to hear how to resolve the issue for colder climates

  • I have had breakage of cone 6 pieces left out for the winter (Michigan) with thaw & freeze action. I wonder, too, about bricks that are weight-bearing in walkways. Great idea. I’d love to hear how to resolve the issue for colder climates

  • My electric kiln is completely powered by a photovoltaic electric generating system which consists of 32 100 watt panels on my garage roof. I fire to cone 6 and my pottery is the “greenest” in California. I recycle all my clay scraps and trap all studio sink waste. Check it out at http://www.varni.org. Charles Varni

  • My electric kiln is completely powered by a photovoltaic electric generating system which consists of 32 100 watt panels on my garage roof. I fire to cone 6 and my pottery is the “greenest” in California. I recycle all my clay scraps and trap all studio sink waste. Check it out at http://www.varni.org. Charles Varni

  • Even though the world ceramic community is a microscopic energy user, and has in the overall scheme a carbon footprint not even worth calculating into the world’s energy equations, these efforts are quite noteworthy. We lead by example. Along with these devices must come a suitable amount of outreach, so we can spread the philosophy and the methods to others…not only artists and craftspeople, but folks of all different pursuits who use energy in their daily lives. And that includes just about everyone.

    The bicycle-powered generator for the kiln’s blower involves some frictional loss, however….there’s heat produced in both the generator and the blower motor, for instance. Why not just run the blower directly from the motion of the bike’s chain? It would just be a matter of increasing speed of the output with extra chain-wheels, and driving the impeller directly from that. As long as some sort of flywheel is used here, it seems to me it would be easier on the person pedaling the device, as well as being more efficient. A rowing machine, similar to the old “Concept II”, would tie in more muscle groups than a bike setup, using the arms and legs more or less equally.

  • Even though the world ceramic community is a microscopic energy user, and has in the overall scheme a carbon footprint not even worth calculating into the world’s energy equations, these efforts are quite noteworthy. We lead by example. Along with these devices must come a suitable amount of outreach, so we can spread the philosophy and the methods to others…not only artists and craftspeople, but folks of all different pursuits who use energy in their daily lives. And that includes just about everyone.

    The bicycle-powered generator for the kiln’s blower involves some frictional loss, however….there’s heat produced in both the generator and the blower motor, for instance. Why not just run the blower directly from the motion of the bike’s chain? It would just be a matter of increasing speed of the output with extra chain-wheels, and driving the impeller directly from that. As long as some sort of flywheel is used here, it seems to me it would be easier on the person pedaling the device, as well as being more efficient. A rowing machine, similar to the old “Concept II”, would tie in more muscle groups than a bike setup, using the arms and legs more or less equally.

  • I’m interested in the four-bucket glaze collection system. Many of the pottery studios I’ve seen in NW Wisconsin, including my own, are on the edges of lakes and wetlands, or in forested natural areas. I’ve struggled with ways to collect glazes at a studio with a septic and drain field. I’m going to give it a try.

  • I’m interested in the four-bucket glaze collection system. Many of the pottery studios I’ve seen in NW Wisconsin, including my own, are on the edges of lakes and wetlands, or in forested natural areas. I’ve struggled with ways to collect glazes at a studio with a septic and drain field. I’m going to give it a try.

  • I am really glad to read about the “greening” of pottery studios. I collect glaze-waste in a rinse bucket, let it settle and siphon off the water. Then I take the “cake” out of the bottom and put it in a plastic bag. When I collect enough I will use the glaze on other items. I recycle all of my clay, later to be pugged or to be used as slip in poured molds. I really try to keep the waste down and re-use all that I can.

    It is good to know what others are doing to keep the waste at a minimum. Thanks for the article.

    I have no good alternative suggestions for power, however. I would love to try solar panels, or some equally sustainable alternative and am always open to suggestions.

  • I am really glad to read about the “greening” of pottery studios. I collect glaze-waste in a rinse bucket, let it settle and siphon off the water. Then I take the “cake” out of the bottom and put it in a plastic bag. When I collect enough I will use the glaze on other items. I recycle all of my clay, later to be pugged or to be used as slip in poured molds. I really try to keep the waste down and re-use all that I can.

    It is good to know what others are doing to keep the waste at a minimum. Thanks for the article.

    I have no good alternative suggestions for power, however. I would love to try solar panels, or some equally sustainable alternative and am always open to suggestions.

  • Great energy reducing principles being implied – I too save all my scrap glaze materials and mix with clay to form bricks. I need a walkway repaved soon and this will be a great way to do it. I will have to try the size 10″ by 2: thick for a main walkway to the front door. That just might keep things from cracking with extreme hot & cold temps.
    I wish I could afford solar for my kilns…. Is wood burning the worst of all? Pitfiring uses so much less energy but doesn’t fit the green bill at all I think. Suggestions?

  • Great energy reducing principles being implied – I too save all my scrap glaze materials and mix with clay to form bricks. I need a walkway repaved soon and this will be a great way to do it. I will have to try the size 10″ by 2: thick for a main walkway to the front door. That just might keep things from cracking with extreme hot & cold temps.
    I wish I could afford solar for my kilns…. Is wood burning the worst of all? Pitfiring uses so much less energy but doesn’t fit the green bill at all I think. Suggestions?

  • What a gret idea! I livee in the Middle east Lebanon. I usually use mid temp clay fired o 1100 degrees.
    Will try the mixture and let you know.
    I usually recycle my glazes and make a beautiful black!
    As for Mr. Varnie I love the idea of solar powered kiln!
    Samar

  • What a gret idea! I livee in the Middle east Lebanon. I usually use mid temp clay fired o 1100 degrees.
    Will try the mixture and let you know.
    I usually recycle my glazes and make a beautiful black!
    As for Mr. Varnie I love the idea of solar powered kiln!
    Samar

  • @ Penny:

    Firing with wood is fine. Wood is not a fossil fuel. The carbon it contains has been captured from the atmosphere in the (relatively) recent past. Yes you are releasing it back into the atmosphere, but more trees will consume it and then you will use them to fire your work an so on. Of course that means that we have to keep re-planting trees so that we don’t de-forest the planet, so using wood from sustainable sources (or your own) is important.

    Biodiesel and waste vegetable oil are using carbon captured recently – which is why they are classed as environmentally friendly. The real problem is the use of coal and oil – or electricity generated from coal or oil, which represent carbon captured millions of years ago when the earth’s atmosphere and environment were different from how it is now. The principle is that if we want the earth to stay the way it is then we have to leave that carbon in the ground.

    Mike

  • @ Penny:

    Firing with wood is fine. Wood is not a fossil fuel. The carbon it contains has been captured from the atmosphere in the (relatively) recent past. Yes you are releasing it back into the atmosphere, but more trees will consume it and then you will use them to fire your work an so on. Of course that means that we have to keep re-planting trees so that we don’t de-forest the planet, so using wood from sustainable sources (or your own) is important.

    Biodiesel and waste vegetable oil are using carbon captured recently – which is why they are classed as environmentally friendly. The real problem is the use of coal and oil – or electricity generated from coal or oil, which represent carbon captured millions of years ago when the earth’s atmosphere and environment were different from how it is now. The principle is that if we want the earth to stay the way it is then we have to leave that carbon in the ground.

    Mike

  • I thought this was simply “common sense practice,” and have been recycling all clay/slip and glazes/materials for over 25 years, both at two teaching studios and my personal studio. Students are taught how to and why they should recycle. (My personal, home studio was constructed intentionally without the sink drain connected to the sewer system to prevent temptation toward being “environmentally incorrect.” I keep big buckets down in the utility-type sink and recycle.) At the teaching studios, large buckets are on top of sink traps (2 sinks) placed directly behind sinks, so recycling for clay and glaze are in separate areas of classroom. (The sink traps have not had to be emptied but once in 15 years, since little goes down drains after good “pre-rinse” in recycle buckets.) All clays are fired to cone 6, and they continue to “play well together” when mixed. Many teachers and students never buy clay, since rinse/scrap clay barrel is emptied into old “bus-boy” type bins and taken outdoors to dry. Glazes become “mystery glazes,” and are used in studios, or given to students starting own studios. Usually they turn out as variations ona nice, green/blue/brown very shiny glaze.

  • I thought this was simply “common sense practice,” and have been recycling all clay/slip and glazes/materials for over 25 years, both at two teaching studios and my personal studio. Students are taught how to and why they should recycle. (My personal, home studio was constructed intentionally without the sink drain connected to the sewer system to prevent temptation toward being “environmentally incorrect.” I keep big buckets down in the utility-type sink and recycle.) At the teaching studios, large buckets are on top of sink traps (2 sinks) placed directly behind sinks, so recycling for clay and glaze are in separate areas of classroom. (The sink traps have not had to be emptied but once in 15 years, since little goes down drains after good “pre-rinse” in recycle buckets.) All clays are fired to cone 6, and they continue to “play well together” when mixed. Many teachers and students never buy clay, since rinse/scrap clay barrel is emptied into old “bus-boy” type bins and taken outdoors to dry. Glazes become “mystery glazes,” and are used in studios, or given to students starting own studios. Usually they turn out as variations ona nice, green/blue/brown very shiny glaze.

  • Echoing what Pete said, these are “feel good’ activities, that pale beside the industrial waste of energy and pollution. Sort of like the “Shower with a Friend” idea from the 60’s.

    The real benefit is from the young minds being trained to Think Green at the college level. These bright people are the leaders of tomorrow, be it on Wall Street or University Row, and they are the ones who will create a Better Way!

  • Echoing what Pete said, these are “feel good’ activities, that pale beside the industrial waste of energy and pollution. Sort of like the “Shower with a Friend” idea from the 60’s.

    The real benefit is from the young minds being trained to Think Green at the college level. These bright people are the leaders of tomorrow, be it on Wall Street or University Row, and they are the ones who will create a Better Way!

  • I’m working on setting up my own studio.. one thing I’d been concerned about was my lack of sink, and how I would solve that issue. Now, I’ll try the multi-bucket system first.
    These are great ideas!
    The studio where I have my membership has a glaze bucket called ‘scrap’.. It varies but is usually a warm brown, very shiny.
    The studio where a friend recently started uses their scrap clay to make bowls… these are donated at events such as ‘buy a bowl of chili’, and the money is donated to charity.

    Thanks to everyone for sharing.

  • I’m working on setting up my own studio.. one thing I’d been concerned about was my lack of sink, and how I would solve that issue. Now, I’ll try the multi-bucket system first.
    These are great ideas!
    The studio where I have my membership has a glaze bucket called ‘scrap’.. It varies but is usually a warm brown, very shiny.
    The studio where a friend recently started uses their scrap clay to make bowls… these are donated at events such as ‘buy a bowl of chili’, and the money is donated to charity.

    Thanks to everyone for sharing.

  • What a great article ๐Ÿ™‚ I will most definitely share this with my students. I would also like to find an energy comparison to help my students understand why I will not fire the kiln for only 1-2 pieces. While my classroom is small, I might try implementing the glaze system and see how much scrap glaze we yield from it. Any opportunity that we can use to help people to be more environmentally conscious is worth it, no matter the scale ๐Ÿ™‚

  • What a great article ๐Ÿ™‚ I will most definitely share this with my students. I would also like to find an energy comparison to help my students understand why I will not fire the kiln for only 1-2 pieces. While my classroom is small, I might try implementing the glaze system and see how much scrap glaze we yield from it. Any opportunity that we can use to help people to be more environmentally conscious is worth it, no matter the scale ๐Ÿ™‚

  • To “paddle upstream” a bit in the light of what is “politically correct” these days in the “Green-washing Movement”, I have to say that Pete hit the nail squarely on the head in his opening statement posting here.

    In the overall picture of environmental impacts, all of the studio potters and college studio ceramics programs in the world have a very minute impact on the world’s environment. We are truly “small potatoes”. It is nice that we are looking at the small ways we can help…. but it is just that,…… VERY small ways.

    The ceramic community’s “save the planet” efforts would be FAR better served by addressing the real issues of the day; the use of centralized electric generation, the lack of efficient mass transit in many counties (particularly the USA), the massive world population situation, the lack of locally grown food and the transportation impacts of “corporate farming, and so on. And particualty the control of the “political apparatus” by the large energy companies and auto industry.

    At my presentation during the Portland NCECA conference during our “Up in Smoke” panel, I took time to illustrate the actual minute impact that things like wood kilns effluents have in the grander scheme of things. When compared to other every day things that are happening in the world, the carbon footprint of a single propane or natural gas or wood fired kiln in the bigger picture is, to be frank, a joke. I also pointed out that the energy dynamics of the typical small (so-called “clean”) under-insulated hobby-type electric kiln made them worse than fuel kilns in some ways.

    As part of that presentation, I illustrated the technical specs of the pollution footprint of a potter’s kiln being fired over a lifetime compared to a single Boeing 747 flying one way from NY to Tokyo (comparing a wood kiln to flying to Japan just seemed to “fit” ); as I hope you would expect……… there IS just about no comparison. A potter could fire every week for a lifetime on the emissions of that single flight. And that was a single plane on a single flight on a single day. Look up in the sky.

    While we are at ti, stand at the corner of a busy intersection in a major city and observe the cars. Walk into a HUGE fully air conditioned mall and think a bit. Watch a single cruise ship depart from port… and just imagine the energy use and pollution. Go to a ski area and watch the snow guns blasting away 24 hours a day for weeks on end. Heck…. look a the server farms and their attendant cooling systems that make it possible for you to even read this posting .

    It is important to note here that I am FAR from insensitive to this whole issue. In fact I’ve been sort of on the forefront of it long before it was “in” to be so. I have had solar collectors on the roof of my home for over 30 years, along with an attahced solar greenhouse and thermosiphioning solar panels on a south facing wall. I’ve been firing with wood as a fuel since 1968 as a conscious decision to use renewable energy. (And we just bought a new 40 mpg car.)

    Doing what we can, no matter how small, is certainly important…… but let’s not inadvertantly bring the attention of the governmental authorities down on the ceramics community by going crazy with this. We are a tiny, non-affluent community which has little political clout to fend off a “feel good”, “look we’re doing something as your elected officials” attack on our profession.

    Things like our kilns have a “high profile” because they are not common to the average public and they certainly LOOK awful from an energy usage point of view, sitting there glowing away. All of those small containers of chemicals in the glaze lab certainly can LOOK really awful to the average person who has never been in an industrial facility and seen the materials THEY use and in the volumes they use them. Add to that the fact that we make “ART”….. something the average public sees as somewhat “frivolous”… and you have a formula for political disaster.

    We can easily become a “scape goat” target of convenience if we let that happen or create the circumstances that focus unwarranted attention in our direction. Let’s do what we can…. but let’s be careful HOW we do it. Please.

    best,

    …………..john

  • To “paddle upstream” a bit in the light of what is “politically correct” these days in the “Green-washing Movement”, I have to say that Pete hit the nail squarely on the head in his opening statement posting here.

    In the overall picture of environmental impacts, all of the studio potters and college studio ceramics programs in the world have a very minute impact on the world’s environment. We are truly “small potatoes”. It is nice that we are looking at the small ways we can help…. but it is just that,…… VERY small ways.

    The ceramic community’s “save the planet” efforts would be FAR better served by addressing the real issues of the day; the use of centralized electric generation, the lack of efficient mass transit in many counties (particularly the USA), the massive world population situation, the lack of locally grown food and the transportation impacts of “corporate farming, and so on. And particualty the control of the “political apparatus” by the large energy companies and auto industry.

    At my presentation during the Portland NCECA conference during our “Up in Smoke” panel, I took time to illustrate the actual minute impact that things like wood kilns effluents have in the grander scheme of things. When compared to other every day things that are happening in the world, the carbon footprint of a single propane or natural gas or wood fired kiln in the bigger picture is, to be frank, a joke. I also pointed out that the energy dynamics of the typical small (so-called “clean”) under-insulated hobby-type electric kiln made them worse than fuel kilns in some ways.

    As part of that presentation, I illustrated the technical specs of the pollution footprint of a potter’s kiln being fired over a lifetime compared to a single Boeing 747 flying one way from NY to Tokyo (comparing a wood kiln to flying to Japan just seemed to “fit” ); as I hope you would expect……… there IS just about no comparison. A potter could fire every week for a lifetime on the emissions of that single flight. And that was a single plane on a single flight on a single day. Look up in the sky.

    While we are at ti, stand at the corner of a busy intersection in a major city and observe the cars. Walk into a HUGE fully air conditioned mall and think a bit. Watch a single cruise ship depart from port… and just imagine the energy use and pollution. Go to a ski area and watch the snow guns blasting away 24 hours a day for weeks on end. Heck…. look a the server farms and their attendant cooling systems that make it possible for you to even read this posting .

    It is important to note here that I am FAR from insensitive to this whole issue. In fact I’ve been sort of on the forefront of it long before it was “in” to be so. I have had solar collectors on the roof of my home for over 30 years, along with an attahced solar greenhouse and thermosiphioning solar panels on a south facing wall. I’ve been firing with wood as a fuel since 1968 as a conscious decision to use renewable energy. (And we just bought a new 40 mpg car.)

    Doing what we can, no matter how small, is certainly important…… but let’s not inadvertantly bring the attention of the governmental authorities down on the ceramics community by going crazy with this. We are a tiny, non-affluent community which has little political clout to fend off a “feel good”, “look we’re doing something as your elected officials” attack on our profession.

    Things like our kilns have a “high profile” because they are not common to the average public and they certainly LOOK awful from an energy usage point of view, sitting there glowing away. All of those small containers of chemicals in the glaze lab certainly can LOOK really awful to the average person who has never been in an industrial facility and seen the materials THEY use and in the volumes they use them. Add to that the fact that we make “ART”….. something the average public sees as somewhat “frivolous”… and you have a formula for political disaster.

    We can easily become a “scape goat” target of convenience if we let that happen or create the circumstances that focus unwarranted attention in our direction. Let’s do what we can…. but let’s be careful HOW we do it. Please.

    best,

    …………..john

  • A couple of us at our cooperative studio would like to try brick making with our waste. I have some technical question re: firing cone six clay & glazes. Should we go with the 1:1 ratio? And what about material sticking to kiln shelves? Do we need to wad the bricks? Use another method? My initial thought was to try a couple ratios & test them at cone 1 as described in this article and at cone 6 as noted in another post. I would use waste bisqueware as kiln cookies for these tests. Opinions? Suggestions?

  • A couple of us at our cooperative studio would like to try brick making with our waste. I have some technical question re: firing cone six clay & glazes. Should we go with the 1:1 ratio? And what about material sticking to kiln shelves? Do we need to wad the bricks? Use another method? My initial thought was to try a couple ratios & test them at cone 1 as described in this article and at cone 6 as noted in another post. I would use waste bisqueware as kiln cookies for these tests. Opinions? Suggestions?

  • I agree that the impact of one small studio is laughable when compared to the real polluters but we must never overlook the collective potential of positive attitudes. If we are truly serious about saving this planet, we all have to do our part and continue to encourage others to join us. Every human on the planet is responsible. If we continue to label our impact as minuscule, this opens the door for others. Before you know it, ADM and Exxon are using the same argument. Why should they change when China is adding new coal fired power plants every day?
    The real problem is attitude. Do what you can. I can’t change the world but I can change our small studio. In most instances, it just makes good business sense to follow the suggestions presented here. Bricks and planters could easily become additional revenue streams. Capturing kiln heat seems to be a no-brainer here in the Midwest. Every time I hear someone complain about sales and the economy, I look around and see waste.
    One last thing. NIMBY…The Not In My Back Yard movement sucks. For those of you who don’t know, it’s the movement the shuts down proposed wind turbine projects because they are afraid of the impact on property values. Find me one single Fukishima resident who doesn’t prefer wind and solar. Our mentor dared to decorate a plate with a wind turbine and one snobby lady chided her for promoting bird killers. We have had a wind turbine for 5 years and we still have not seen a dead bird. I did hit one with my all Electric S-10 pickup so I guess it should be outlawed. Is a coal or nuclear plant just over the horizon better? Sorry to rant. I realize that in the long run, it doesn’t really matter. After all…I’m just one small potter.

  • I agree that the impact of one small studio is laughable when compared to the real polluters but we must never overlook the collective potential of positive attitudes. If we are truly serious about saving this planet, we all have to do our part and continue to encourage others to join us. Every human on the planet is responsible. If we continue to label our impact as minuscule, this opens the door for others. Before you know it, ADM and Exxon are using the same argument. Why should they change when China is adding new coal fired power plants every day?
    The real problem is attitude. Do what you can. I can’t change the world but I can change our small studio. In most instances, it just makes good business sense to follow the suggestions presented here. Bricks and planters could easily become additional revenue streams. Capturing kiln heat seems to be a no-brainer here in the Midwest. Every time I hear someone complain about sales and the economy, I look around and see waste.
    One last thing. NIMBY…The Not In My Back Yard movement sucks. For those of you who don’t know, it’s the movement the shuts down proposed wind turbine projects because they are afraid of the impact on property values. Find me one single Fukishima resident who doesn’t prefer wind and solar. Our mentor dared to decorate a plate with a wind turbine and one snobby lady chided her for promoting bird killers. We have had a wind turbine for 5 years and we still have not seen a dead bird. I did hit one with my all Electric S-10 pickup so I guess it should be outlawed. Is a coal or nuclear plant just over the horizon better? Sorry to rant. I realize that in the long run, it doesn’t really matter. After all…I’m just one small potter.

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