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Brief Published: 18 Mar 2019

Transforming Toxic Waste: from Byproduct to Tableware

Ceramics made from red mud

Asserting the potential of waste and secondary resources as new material alternatives, design students at London’s Royal College of Art have transformed a toxic industrial byproduct into usable ceramic tableware.

Bauxite residue, also known as red mud, is a leftover of aluminium production. According to the designers, for every tonne of aluminium created, more than twice as much of this toxic waste is produced – equating to 150 million tonnes a yearFor an idea of scale, the giant pits where red mud is discarded and stored are visible from space.

Alongside a team of material scientists at Imperial College London and ceramicists, the students have developed a range of clay bodies, slips and glazes using red mud to create a collection of terracotta-like ceramics. Numerous colours and unpredictable glazes are achieved with different firing temperatures, thanks to the material’s high metal oxide content. Colours range from soft red through to purple and black, highlighting red mud’s creative scope.

The project aims to correct the stigma around the term ‘waste’ by transforming an abundant material into valuable products, whilst raising awareness of the environmentally destructive processes and byproducts caused by the production of common materials like aluminium.

In a similar vein, Lithuanian designer Agne Kucerenkaite uses industrial metal waste from water treatment plants to produce experimental colour glazes, as featured in our report Material Direction: Resurfacing Ceramics. See Designers Mine from Waste Streams for more on untapped resources and waste mining.