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Are Ceramics Eco-Friendly?


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As mentioned previously, I am neither an artist nor a potter......so please forgive my ignorance.

 

I am basically a sign maker and I am experimenting with making porcelain signs.

 

You can find a sign shop in every town in America and they all make signs the same way......either with a printer or with vinyl or plastic. Occasionally, you'll find someone that makes wooden signs or carved granite.

 

The problem with most outdoor signage is that it cannot endure the elements. UV stable signage is a major issue. Wooden signs eventually rot. Carved granite and molded brass signs are very expensive. Plastic and vinyl are definitely not "Eco-Friendly".

 

So I'm trying to assemble a list of the benefits of making signs out of porcelain. I know that it is UV stable and will never fade. I know that it is strong....but there are different types of strength (flexural, tensile, compressive, diaelectric)......how do I convey that? I know that it can withstand high temperatures (I have one customer that makes industrial driers and standard plastic melts when attached to the machines because they get so hot).

 

And everyone wants Eco-Friendly products nowadays.......believe it or not, Google just came out with a report that says G-Mail is more eco-friendly than other types of e-mail!!!!!!

 

So, please help me assemble a list of the benefits of porcelain and let me know if I am OK to state that it is more eco-friendly than plastic.

 

Thanks!

 

Steve

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Guest JBaymore

Nice idea.

However, an over-simplified "eco" analysis of such things is very easy to do. Unfortunately, "Greenwashing" (my term for it) is going on everywhere. So if you start looking into this, please make sure that you have REAL numbers to go on..... not something cobbled together by someone that really is not looking at the "big picture".

 

Example of the "devil is in the details":

 

Statement is made, "this kiln is more environmentally friendly than that kiln."

 

Variables that must be looked at:

 

If potter A uses that kiln they shipped it 250 total miles from manufacturer to user.

 

If Potter B uses that kiln, they shipped it 1960 miles from manufacturer to user.

 

So there is a difference in the shipping environmental footprint.

 

 

If Potter A uses that kiln, in their location, electric power is generated using 90% coal fuel.

 

If Potter B uses that kiln, in their location, electric power is generated using 60% coal fuel.

 

Difference in the energy environmental footprint.

 

 

If Potter A uses that kiln, they are well trained and understand how to fire efficiently.

 

If Potter B uses that kiln, they are not all that well ttrained and do not know how to fire efficiently.

 

Difference in energy consumption per firing encvironmental impact.

 

And so on ,and so on, and so on.

 

 

So there is no easy "one size fits all" answer.

 

At best, I am guessing that you could compare a very generalized "clay sign" number" to a very generalized "vinyl sign" number.

 

But I think in EITHER case for you to be accurate, you should be contracting a scientific based study by a firm that specializes in environmental analysis to get this information put togethere accurately.

 

Most potters/ ceramic artists are not skilled in figuring out their real environmental impacts.

 

best,

 

...............john

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  • 2 weeks later...

I think this is a fascinating idea to think about. Unfortunately, I agree that it would take a scientific study to figure it out fully.

 

I do think the printing might be where you could more easily make a case for "eco" friendly. I don't know much about printing vinyl signs, but I'm under the impression that the chemicals used can be toxic and bad for the environment. Things may have changed in the past few years, but I think it could be worth looking into. My gut says that "printing" on porcelain is more environmentally friendly than plastic or vinyl and I think this information would be much easier to come by. Presumably all the components should have a MSDS that you can obtain to read about the impacts and safety.

 

I'm making a lot of assumptions here (and you know that they say about assume-ing things), but I think it could be worth look into.

 

Christen

 

P.S. If you do pursue this, I'd be really interested to know the answer. :)

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  • 2 months later...

Nice idea.

However, an over-simplified "eco" analysis of such things is very easy to do. Unfortunately, "Greenwashing" (my term for it) is going on everywhere. So if you start looking into this, please make sure that you have REAL numbers to go on..... not something cobbled together by someone that really is not looking at the "big picture".

 

Example of the "devil is in the details":

 

Statement is made, "this kiln is more environmentally friendly than that kiln."

 

Variables that must be looked at:

 

If potter A uses that kiln they shipped it 250 total miles from manufacturer to user.

 

If Potter B uses that kiln, they shipped it 1960 miles from manufacturer to user.

 

So there is a difference in the shipping environmental footprint.

 

 

If Potter A uses that kiln, in their location, electric power is generated using 90% coal fuel.

 

If Potter B uses that kiln, in their location, electric power is generated using 60% coal fuel.

 

Difference in the energy environmental footprint.

 

 

If Potter A uses that kiln, they are well trained and understand how to fire efficiently.

 

If Potter B uses that kiln, they are not all that well ttrained and do not know how to fire efficiently.

 

Difference in energy consumption per firing encvironmental impact.

 

And so on ,and so on, and so on.

 

 

So there is no easy "one size fits all" answer.

 

At best, I am guessing that you could compare a very generalized "clay sign" number" to a very generalized "vinyl sign" number.

 

But I think in EITHER case for you to be accurate, you should be contracting a scientific based study by a firm that specializes in environmental analysis to get this information put togethere accurately.

 

Most potters/ ceramic artists are not skilled in figuring out their real environmental impacts.

 

best,

 

...............john

 

 

 

Thanks for a great answer. When I hear ambiguous questions I say, "it all depends." And then I give examples.

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Hey, there;

Like other artists on this topic, I am not a scientist, but I know porcelain and stoneware. The vinyl signs referred to are large signs cut out of sheets of vinyl with a laser cutter, and then adhered to a large board/ sheet of something.

The deal with ceramic signs is that they last forever-see Egyptian pottery, or Greek Red figure pots.Porcelain is not Eco friendly if glazed, as the chemicals eventually go down a drain somewhere, and the firing generates greenhouse gases whether you use electricity or gas. I can be smug here as our power for our kilns in this area is generated by a hydro electric dam. Still, you are daming rivers and moving people off their land.

It's a good topic.

I don't reaaly feel holier than though for how we generate power.

TJR

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Interesting. I never thought of whether or not ceramic bisque is "eco" friendly.

Another thought is bio degradable.

I would have to state that though ceramic bisque is bio degradable, the glazes used to paint the piece might not be.

You might want to talk to the company you buy your paints from. Ask them if their paints are friendly to the environment as well as asking if they contain lead.

As for porcelain, I would assume that though it is also bio degradable, it will take longer to return to the earth. Also, If glazed, chances are that it isn't eco friendly. Again, it would depend on the glazes.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Sorry to disappoint you, but:

 

In terms of greenhouse gasses, in your application, ceramics is far worse than plastic or vinyl.

To produce a sheet of plastic requires little energy, to cut and shape it also require little energy.

If it was not so, the world would not be full of plastics.

 

Ceramics need to be fired at a high temperature for a very long time, this requires a tremendous amount of energy by comparison,

and usually this comes from burning coal at the power station. (That is why electric kilns usually require 3-phase connections unless they are very small).

 

Making a plate/bowl of ceramics for food and using it instead of using throw-away plastic all the time is sensible.

However for signs the criteria is different: Ceramics will last a very long time, but normally people do not require signs to last hundreds of years,

its characteristics will only be required by a niche market. So why would one burn coal unecessary if there is no requirement?

 

You can argue that your ceramic sign is mostly clay and glaze, and therefore more natural, while plastics are synthetic,

but most damage from plastics are related to where they are - e.g. strangling fish in the ocean, than what they are.

If plastics were so bad we would not be eating and drinking and using it every day.

 

I am NOT a fan of plastics, the less we use and more we recycle the better, but in terms of saving the environment,

reduction of greenhouse gases should be our priority to reduce global warming. For this the use and the alternatives should be considered.

 

I hope this helps.

 

PS: Porcelain probably generates more greenhouse gas than any other clay, because it is a very long process from bones of animals to the end result. It is not just something you can get from a local quarry and refine a bit.

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Speaking of "quarry".....I see a lot of talk about the "eco-friendliness" (or not) of firing and other aspects of ceramics/pottery...but has anyone given thought/followed the trail backwards regarding how the "clay" we use in our studios is mined/processed/etc. and what enviro-effects such processes might impart on our world?

 

teardop

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