Sunday, December 15, 2013

Utilizing Waste

The ceramic process creates a lot of waste. Whether it's substandard products or manufacturing waste, even studio potters are not immune to the issue. I've run into more than one person that is too stubborn to reclaim their waste clay and instead throws it out, or dumps a contaminated glaze down the drain (yikes) or simply throws it out without firing it first. Almost every studio I know of disposes of their sink trap waste. This last one is more understandable for me since it's smelly and tends to hold less aesthetic value to the average community studio student. While people have told me that some studios offer a "waste glaze", this does not tend to be a viable option in many places and thus the continuous disposal of material.

I've been trying to incorporate as much of this material into my practice as possible. While it's not always usable as a decent clay body since the material is extremely short and I do receive a lot of (justified) complaints about the smell, not to mention the issue that this material get its smell from a host of bacteria that may contain serious things such as Staphylococcus, I am able to use it successfully as a slip as I can only disturb a small amount of the bacteria at once and use all of it at one time. Once the material dries, the bacteria are much less smelly. I'm still looking for a way to get rid of it altogether, but this will require something costly and possibly spacious and I'm all about keeping my costs down. Also, if any of the bacteria remains, will be multiply and spread through all of the material again so it's kind of an all or nothing deal.

While trolling the internet (after accidentally getting to work an hour and a half early, oops) I found some research surrounding the use of this sort of material in an industrial setting. The company starting to manufacture some of these materials in the form of tiles is called AluSiD and although their website does not seem to work, a lot of good information on David Binns's website. The following is an excerpt that is quite helpful as an example of both aspect of my concept and the materiality of the pieces in a utilitarian sense:

"Aesthetics materiality and ‘place’
As well as providing a sustainable alternative to traditional stone cladding, the material offers a number of other unique aesthetic attributes. Materials have philosophically and historically engendered a strong association with ‘place’, the origins and configuration of such materials being increasingly germane to genuine sustainable aspirations. Traditionally, the majority of construction materials were sourced locally to the site of construction; not only meaning minimal energy was required to transport the materials, but use of local materials (stone in particular), imparted a unique aesthetic character to any given location, strengthening the sense or identity of place. Using local materials therefore, clearly plays a crucial role in helping characterize “placeness”, contrasting with repeated use of the same imported stone that offers no localized identity, rather creating a repetitive, bland uniformity across many developments; hopefully avoiding the concerns of the architect...

The researchers have found that any second-quality casts or waste trimmings and sludges from machining may be directly returned into the production process, avoiding any manufacturing waste, thus satisfying the desirable objective of ‘closed-loop’ manufacturing. Through testing, the material has been shown to have a life cycle similar to existing construction materials such as common brick. If however dismantling was necessary, the product may either be re-used or easily recycled. This would entail simply re-introducing it into the original manufacturing cycle as a raw material rather than the more common process of ‘downcycling’ to less valuable products; further enhancing the eco-credentials of the materials.
Whilst the material will inevitably incur energy consumption within production – transportation of waste to point of manufacture, processing and return to site, the embodied energy is predicted to be significantly lower than imported stone, with the advantage of zero production waste."

David Binns and Dr Alasdair Bremner, with the help of School of Design at the University of Central Lancashire, are definitely on to something interesting here. There is a growing push (necessity?) to develop as much closed loop manufacturing as possible, especially from locally sourced material and although these objects tend to carry a higher price tag due to research costs, and arguably because the clientele that are interested in buying things like this tend to be more affluent, this is not necessarily the end all be all of this mode of manufacturing. With time the costs should be driven down, especially if it becomes more popular. As for myself, I try to incorporate as many free materials and cheap low fire clays mixed with small amounts of other materials to improve the aesthetic and make them more unique. This helps keep my cost affordable, although then I am traversing the slippery slope of selling art for a lower price which usually translates to it being less important. Why are people such idiot consumers? If this article about Art Basel is going to teach us anything, it's that a high price tag and a pricey, name brand education does not automatically translate into good, well crafted art. Just expensive, self glorifying, self indulgent, shittly made art. Perhaps more affordable objects can be part of the answer in that they create a less exploitative atmosphere. Or perhaps I'm just an idealist who would like to think that people care enough about the interests of others to think a little less about their own personal gain and more about the greater good. Or maybe I'm just tired and grumpy and I need a coffee.

1 comment:

  1. Have you read "Sustainable Ceramics" by Robert Harrison? It has some good information and references some unique artists who are focusing on some of the things you talk about. I haven't read the whole thing yet but am constantly thinking about how to deal with the frustrating waste of ceramics and some potters reluctance or refusal to look and talk about this issue.