The circular economy can be seen as the developing alternative to our wasteful linear economy, where raw materials are used to make the products that feed today’s rampant consumerist hunger and are then thrown away. The practices at the core of a circular economy are quite simple like repairing, recycling, refurbishing, or repurposing, and all of these strategies have the central aim to keep materials in use, whether as objects or as their raw components for as long as possible.
Pottery is among the most lasting living craft traditions of India. From terracotta chimes, flower pots to the thirst-quenching suraahi and matki, pottery is practiced across the length and breadth of the country. A visit to the countryside and “potter’ villages” speaks volumes about the economic importance of this craft. In many parts of India, along with subsistence agriculture, people engage in pottery using traditional manual potter’s wheels and kilns, making earthenware an integral part of haat, bazaars, and urban market spaces, especially during the festive season.
But in urban households, scarcity of time and maintenance of such vessels often leads people to look for modern options like non-stick cookware, steel, and aluminum over clay. Earthen pots are sustainable as the material decomposes back to nature without polluting the environment. They are made using clay and other soil forms and as they essentially come from the soil, they easily get decomposed back into it.
With growing concern for the environment, many people are replacing their steel/aluminum cookware with traditional vessels made of clay just like their ancestors. From cooking food to setting curd and storing water, they aim to be self-sustainable and eco-friendly. Cooking in earthen pots and utensils also has additional benefits. These are:
- Clay is alkaline and when it interacts with the acidity in the food, it neutralizes the pH balance eventually, making it healthier.
- Due to its heat resistance, the food retains all the natural oils and moisture while slow-cooking, hence, extra oil need not be added.
- Earthen utensils are not very expensive and cost-efficient compared to other types of utensils.
- Cooking in a clay vessel infuses the food with many important nutrients like calcium, phosphorous, iron, magnesium, and sulphur.
- Boiling milk, or making curd in Clay pots gives it better taste and texture than metal vessels, as told by veteran Chef Sanjeev Kapoor.
- Clay is a porous material that allows heat and moisture circulate evenly through the pot during cooking, unlike metal or stainless-steel pots. This superior form of heat circulation helps in cooking vegetables and meat evenly.
- Firstly, clay cooking pots are extremely effective for slow cooking. Clay cooking vessels are porous in nature. It allows both moisture and heat to circulate easily through them. This aids in even, slow and delicate cooking. Curry, Gravy, and sautéing vegetables/meat are best done in earthenware.
With the current environmental situations prevailing in our surroundings, it is the duty and responsibility of each individual to use more renewable and recyclable products. It is a known fact that not all the products can be recycled, in which case, using products that have a high level of recyclability is advisable. Earthenware products are easily recycled and its recyclability rate is also extremely high. From the broken pots to old utensils, all can be recycled completely, with the help of a simple process, and can be carved easily and quickly into newly desirable shapes. The recyclability rate of clay is 95 percent. This is a very high rate, highlighting that people should buy terracotta products more for preserving the environment. All the products that are made of clay possess the attribute of being highly durable and they are built with the main focus of being long-lasting. It is due to this aspect that they can tolerate a high level of wear and tear. In addition to this, the product has a high level of weather and heat resistance.
The case against earthenware 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, earthenware takes less energy to form than glass does, and many ceramicists claim that in larger studios and 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. 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. 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, it seems there are very few materials that are as long-lasting and eco-friendly as ceramics.