art bead, bead, handmade, polymer clay, recycling, zero waste
For a while now I have been distressed that polymer clay is plastic and questioning whether I should be adding more of it to the world. While looking for eco friendly options for polymer clay, I found this article by Wendy Moore where she discusses her own considerations on the responsible use of polymer clay. Even though I don’t rely on my creations as a livelihood (as the women of Samunnat do), I have discovered that making things is vital for my mental health.
I have considered whether there are alternatives that I would find equally satisfying, but I haven’t thought of anything yet. Making lampwork glass beads would require constant burning of fuel while I’m working and I would no longer be directly in contact with the pieces due to the high temperatures. Earth clays would dry out and be wasted due to my erratic availability of time (not to mention requiring a furnace to cure). Even wool felt can be considered to have a negative ecological impact when considering the manufacturing of dyes (I don’t know if natural dyes could get the bright colours I’d want).
There does not seem to be a perfect solution, just relative improvements. Since I already have a stock of polymer clay, it seems better for me to focus on using it without creating waste until there is a more sustainable option. Unbaked clay is no problem (sometimes I don’t have enough) as it can be infinitely reused as a base with decorative veneers on top. However there are techniques e.g. carving that I really like which result in baked polymer clay scraps. (I also collect the scraps produced when drilling beads.)
I have previously used the baked polymer scraps decoratively by rolling them into the surface of unbaked clay to make “frit” beads. I have also used scraps as inclusions in thin sheets of clay that I bake and use for creating mosaic pieces. Since making the mosaics results in more tiny offcuts I decided to test how far I could push the cycle. I used tiny pieces to make stud earrings and then used the offcuts from that to make a new sheet ready to use in future mosaics. Since I need to use fresh polymer clay to use up the offcuts, I hope people will like the studs!
The other place where I have concerns about the waste produced, is the sludge left behind after wet sanding beads. I’m not very keen on sanding so I don’t always do it, but some components just look better when sanded. I have started collecting the dust and working it into raw polymer clay as you might do with mica powders. Because I’m often sanding beads with mixed colours this can result in some neutral shades. I decided to make some of my favourite patchwork beads using these shades of neutral*. I even ended up mixing them with some more colourful pieces because I wasn’t very keen on the colourful mix on it’s own. I don’t sand the beads when I use this technique, so this method closes the loop instead of making more.
With all these techniques, I think it’s important to make something appealing. After all if it doesn’t result in something that someone will treasure it’s going to end up in landfill.
* Of course if I didn’t like the colour of the dust mix, I could also use it in the same way as unbaked scrap clay with a decorative veneer on top.