by Tamra Booth, Keeeps
It’s Earth Day on the 22 April, a day of action across the world “to raise awareness and support for environmental protection”. Keeeps is fully behind the current drive to stop waste, stop buying disposable products, and start being more conscious and mindful of our fragile planet. Pottery is another little, but important, step in helping us live a more sustainable life.
The recent “eco-boom” has seen an increase in people seeking sustainable, eco-friendly alternatives to their plastic, mass-manufactured, imported household items.
Most of us have been doing our bit for the planet, whether that is investing in a reusable water bottle, buying your fruit and veg from your local market or using reusable shopping bags. At work you may have been making the most of the bike-to-work scheme, working from home to remove the commute, or going paperless.
These small changes you make go a long way. Sustainability is all about breaking old habits and picking up new greener ones. Forget “eco-anxiety” and businesses jumping on the band wagon, we can all play a part in our own little way and make conscious decisions to be greener.
Something we are asked all the time is “are ceramics sustainable?”.
Pottery is made from clay which in its raw form is a biodegradable, natural material sourced directly from the earth.
Once fired in the kiln, it becomes solid and durable. Of course, firing a kiln uses a lot of energy but potters are a thoughtful and waste-hating bunch and have adapted their pottery practice in many ways, to name a few:
- ensuring the kiln is at full capacity before firing;
- avoiding gas kilns all together;
- switching to green energy providers for electric kilns;
- switching to wood firing kilns using sustainably sourced wood; and
- avoiding toxic glazes.
Some innovative potters also use the heat produced from their kilns to heat their homes to offset the impact or are using solar panels to power their kilns.
Despite the kiln debate, there is much good to be said about ceramic as a green alternative. Here are the top five ways that handmade pottery is an eco-friendly choice and how Keeeps helps keep it green.
Humans have produced such incredible amounts of plastic since it was invented in the early 1880’s, that “the planet is now drowning in it”. . It comes as no surprise then that “it is predicted that by 2050 (a mere 29 years away) there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean (by weight)”.
The message is clear. We need to stop buying plastic, or at the very least, drastically reduce our consumption of plastic. Ceramics of course offer the perfect alternative. They can be reused and recycled and if they do end up in landfill, unlike plastic, they do not release harmful toxins into the ground which then end up in our water, ground and even onto our plates and into our bodies.
Eliminating plastic waste was a priority when I started Keeeps. The packaging had to be plastic free but the alternative had to provide excellent protection from breakage. Instead of polystyrene, we use corn starch packing peanuts which can be disposed of by dissolving in water or thrown onto your compost heap. They are great at protecting the products too. Win-win!
I was actually quite surprised by the eco-packaging options available and that the price difference was minimal. It was a no-brainer and all packaging used at Keeeps is completely plastic free, biodegradable and recyclable, including the tape and gift wrapping. The paper and boxes we use are from FSC certified suppliers, meaning the wood they are made from is responsibly sourced.
On top of that, we ask that all products delivered to us from our potters are in non-plastic packaging or previously used packaging, which is then reused, either for transit or storage, or recycled by Keeeps.
2. Made in the UK
All pottery sold at Keeeps is handmade (on the wheel or by hand) by potters in their own or shared studios in the UK. According to the Crafts Council, “Studio potters only use a fraction of the materials and energy of the ceramics industry”. Our potters only make a certain number of items, so when they’re gone, they’re gone, we do not mass-manufacture and our products are not made in factories that churn out fumes.
All of our potters are based in the UK. Supporting local, home grown products reduces imported items, avoids unnecessary transport pollution, promotes British skills and craftsmanship and supports local economies.
3. Pottery lasts a lifetime
How often do we go out and buy new plates or bowls? Not very often. In fact, I’ve had my crockery for over 10 years. Ceramics are something that, if you can avoid an accidental drop or smash, will last a lifetime and as such are not something people tend to throw away and replace often. My auntie still has and uses her wedding tableware…gifted in 1960!
Plastic and paper tableware are not green options, and let’s be honest, single-use cutlery and tableware are the devil’s work! Ceramics on the other hand are hardwearing and long-lasting and if you’re moving into your first home and want to treat yourself to a lovely set of plates, then take your old crockery to a charity shop, and it’ll be guaranteed another loving home for the next few years.
4. Pottery can be recycled and reused
Our products are made from no-waste material. Our potters always take great care to recycle clay that is not used. The water used when making an item can be poured off, and the clay which remains at the bottom is recycled along with other scraps to ensure there is no wastage. Equally, all creations are checked thoroughly before firing, so if any aren’t up to scratch, they won’t go into the kiln and instead the clay will be reused. 
When the Keeeps permanent store opens in Autumn 2021, we will have a collection point for unwanted or broken ceramics. Undamaged ceramics will be given to charity and broken ceramics will be either touched up and put to other uses or recycled.
In the meantime, if you have any broken ceramics that are of no use, simply take them to your local recycling centre. Here, they are often repurposed as gravel or crushed to be used in drainage and sewage systems or even made into different ceramics so do not end up in landfill!
In terms of reusing ceramics, there are some creative ways that you can implement even damaged ceramics into your interiors. On BB2’s series ‘Interior Design Masters’, Alan Carr recently showed his excitement over the clever and stylish use of broken ceramics or tiles as mosaics. Pioneered by Antoni Gaudi, the “Mosaic Genius of Barcelona” himself, it’s a look that gives off Mediterranean vibes and can be really effective in gardens, restaurants and kitchens.
5. Supports reduction in consumption
To quote Vivenne Westwood, “Buy Less, Choose Well and Make It Last”.
To create the big change we seek, we need a drastic shift in our attitude to “stuff”. We need to take a leaf out of our grandparents (or great-grandparents!) books and “make do and mend”. The fashion industry has created a disposable culture, churning out vast amounts of cheap clothing to feed the 52 “micro-seasons a year". Fast fashion needs to slow down. Careful, more thoughtful buying is the way forward.
Keeeps stocks functional homeware and kitchenware as opposed to purely decorative ceramics, so they can be used and kept forever in your home or gifted to an eco-conscious loved one. The price point (albeit surprisingly affordable for what is essentially art) reflects the durability and beauty, the fact that it will survive changing trends and not to mention the time and effort put in by our potters.
The aim of Keeeps is to help our customers invest in quality, avoid mass manufacture and support British skills, talent and economy, all of which will help reduce the impact on the environment. Pottery really can make our planet a better place.
We hope you will now be inspired to explore sustainable living ideas in your own personal life or business.
Happy Earth Day from the whole team at Keeeps!