Written By: Harry Levenstein

Just as there is an art to working with clay, there is also one to working with clay in a more sustainable way. Here at the NCECA Green Task Force we are continually working to bring awareness to the increasing importance of sustainability in our lives as artists and makers. In no particular order, here are our top 10 tips for reducing studio waste:

1. Sponge washin’ is fun washin’

We’re all guilty of turning on that faucet and mindlessly washing our tools without realizing just how much water is being used. When the time comes to wash your tools off, rather than blasting the water and leaving it on during the whole process try simply wetting a sponge and cleaning them off with that. No running water necessary. If you just finished throwing you could even wash them out with the leftover water in your bucket. This goes for your splash pans too!

2. No more paper towels

Honestly, I don’t know why they even still make these things. They are so easily wasted because they are so easily accessible and seem as though the supply is never-ending. Many-a-tree will be grateful for you making the switch to real towels for drying off hands. If you must keep paper towels in your studio, try obscuring their access to make them a bit harder to reach. One of our team members places an actual plant in front of her paper towel dispensers for a very literal reminder of where they are coming from.

3. Reclaim your clay

We’re pushing to make this standard practice in all studios! Get yourself a bucket and collect all of your trimmings, clay slurry, failed pots, etc. Dry clay will need to be slaked. When you’re ready pour it out onto some plaster, wait for it to set up, wedge it back together, and voila! You get more clay to play with, and the studio tech has less slurry to deal with. Everyone wins! I like to throw with a small plaster bat nearby to put my slop directly onto for easy reclamation!

4. Smart glaze mixing

Mix an appropriate amount of glaze for the amount of glazing you are about to do. If you end up with extra, think of a better way to use it than just dumping it out. Maybe a friend wants some? Check out our upcoming blog post about reclaim glaze if you want to take it a step further!

5. Don’t cottle with clay

Try to avoid using an excess amount of clay when making plaster molds. Rather than cottling with clay, four pieces of a 2×4 can be screwed/clamped together in many different ways to form a good outside mold form.

6. Cut plaster waste

Much like mixing a glaze, try to only mix the amount of plaster that you need for your task. That being said, we know it is better to end up with more plaster than not enough, so instead of tossing the extra plaster, have some extra molds ready to dump it into. Nothing else to make a mold of? You can use it to make plaster slabs for your clay reclaim project. Pie pans are great for this.

7. Sink Bucket System

This system will conserve a substantial amount of water in your studio. Place a large bucket in the sink with a few holes drilled near the top. When washing off clay, do so into the bucket. The slurry will collect at the bottom while the water drains out of the drilled holes at the top. Once the bucket has filled with water you can use that water to wash things rather than running the faucet again. Alternatively, you could forego the sink altogether and set up what is known as the “4-bucket system” where four buckets of water are utilized as rinsing stations and the scraps from the bottom can be collected and recycled.

8. Reuse clay bags

Have a storage area for students to put their empty clay bags. These can be rinsed out and reused for reclaimed studio clay.

9. Reach Out!

One maker’s trash is another’s treasure! Getting in touch with local businesses or even individuals can be a mutually beneficial way to deal with waste products. You never know what those around you may be in need of. For example, we have donated excess slurry from our studio to some local folks interested in building cob ovens!

10. Reminders!

A very effective way to communicate important messages is by posting reminders with eye-catching colors/text. There should be a note by your sink reminding users to be water wise! A sticker on your paper towel dispenser reminding users that they come from trees will help reduce usage. We’ve all heard the ‘yellow mellow” rhyme…

Working in a medium such as ours that depends so much on natural resources, it is our responsibility to be extra aware of the impact that we are having. Incorporating these 10 tips into your day-to-day studio practice will help you start lowering the amount of waste in your space and begin to plant seeds for greener thinking and processes in the future. Like anything, it must start on the individual level. Taking on and considering responsible choices yourself, and once people begin to see and feel the positivity that comes from it, they will soon follow. Feel free to print the following poster to put in your studio to remind yourself and others!