By Arwa Lodhi
For millenia, humans have been creating drinking vessels, jugs, plates, vases and even jewellery out of clay, and still today, given the vast variety of materials available to us, clay is still one of the most beautiful and durable options available.
Derived directly from the Earth, ceramic is also one of the most natural materials you can use in your home interior designs. Stoneware, earthenware and porcelain are all sourced from the earth, and when their use is over, they return to the earth. The material is beautiful, practical, and can take a wide variety of shapes and forms, from the finest, most delicate porcelain as seen in Royal Daulton or Lladro figurines to the more organically textured cups by Daniel Bellows, below, or the perfectly imperfect bowls of Souda Studios (below, in blue).
Aesthetics aside, there has been some debate regarding the eco-friendliness of pottery. So just how eco friendly is ceramic?
Too Hot to Be Eco?
The case against the material comes mainly from those who note that much energy is used to fire the kilns that harden the clay; in fact, temperatures in the thousands of degrees are needed. Additionally, many types of glaze require two trips to the kiln to finish. If that energy comes from fossil fuels, that’s a pretty heavy environmental footprint for say, a cup.
However, pottery takes less energy to make than glass does, and many ceramicists claim that in larger studios and in industrial pottery making, there are heat recovery systems in place that ensure the building incurs no further need for hot water provision or heating beyond what is provided by the heat of the kiln; in fact, some of that heat can even be exported to local community buildings, or even into grow-tunnels to give some warmth to tomatoes and other heat-loving crops.
Still, it is true that there are many harmful chemicals in some glazes, most notably lead, which can leach into food and liquids used on ceramic tablewear. The glazes also mean that it can take centuries for some forms of ceramics to biodegrade. On the other hand, when it does break down, ceramic is more benign to the environment than, say, plastic, and the toxic ingredients in glazes are being phased out by in most countries–lead in particular is pretty hard to find in pottery in most developed countries. There is also a wide variety of beautiful, non-toxic glazes available too.
Moreover, ceramic is far more durable than other materials often used for eating: you’d never think to toss out ceramic cups or plates after one use, as people almost always do with plastic or paper, and while wood and bamboo plates and cups may last much longer than these materials, they are more prone to water damage and cuts than ceramic is.
The Bottom Line
Despite the energy needed to fire a kiln, if the heat is well managed and distributed, and if no toxic materials are added to the clay or in the finish, it seems there are few materials around that are as durable and eco-friendly as ceramics. We love ceramics not only for their eco-credentials, but because of the infinite variety of shape, form and texture they can take on, reflecting the potential beauty of what happens when natural materials are transformed by human creativity.
Some Ceramics We Love
From the iconic Italian brand. For eating on…or just displaying. Around $150.
Just as beautiful as the flowers you’ll put in it. From $55.
Who says pottery has to be practical? This handmade-in-Italy ceramic kitty will be the highlight of your display shelf. Around $165.
This elegant dish set may have a woody grain, but it’s 100% handmade ceramics. From $150.
If you’re a fan of everyday objects recreated in ceramic form, you’ll love this platter – and so will your guests! Around $70.
Always stuck for a place to put your tea bag? Problem solved with this unique mug! Around $20.
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