High-quality, all-natural clay is a surprisingly reusable material, but clay products that contain synthetics present recycling difficulties.
What is clay?Simply put, clay is a type of dirt. It falls at the very end of a spectrum that starts with sand (which is made of relatively large particles) and ends with clay (which is made up of very small pieces). It comes in a variety of colors, including brown, red, yellow and more. Home gardeners often curse clay because for it is difficult to grow fruits and veggies in. However, crafters all over the world love it for its ability to hold its shape and harden when heated to high temperatures. Humans have used clay vessels to hold water and food for thousands of years; the oldest known pottery shards, discovered in China, are 20,000 years old. In most cases, you would not want to dig clay from your garden and dump it directly on your pottery wheel. Soil is typically made up a combination of sand, loam and clay. Plus, it is likely to have leaves, pine needles, moss and other bits of nature mixed in. It is possible to take clay-rich soil and refine it for use in pottery projects, or you can purchase clay from art supply stores. There are other products we call clay, such as children’s modeling clay and brightly colored clay for making jewelry and small figurines. There are a few varieties made from polyvinyl chloride (the same material that pipes and vinyl records are made of). However, most contain a mix of natural ingredients (such as flour and salt) and synthetic ones (such as artificial colors and petroleum-based products).
How to recycle artist’s clayIt is relatively easy to recycle artist’s clay and put it back to use, even if it has completely dried out. All it takes is some time and some good instructions. About.com offers a useful article that provides details for recycling any clay trimmings generated during the art-making process. Here is a summary of its suggestions:
- Set up different buckets for any different types and colors of clay you work with (slow firing, hand-building, etc.). Place any clay in its corresponding bucket and let it dry out completely. Make sure the clay is free of dirt and other debris.
- Add enough water to cover clay by a few inches. Let it sit, stirring once a day, until the mixture has a very thick consistency.
- Pour off the water, then gather the clay and lay it on an absorbent surface. Let it dry out just enough that you can work it again.
- Store the clay in a plastic bag until you are ready to use it.