Is Polymer Clay Bad for the Environment? Stats, Trends, and Facts

Polymer clay, a mixture of polyvinyl chloride (PVC), pigments and a plasticiser derived from salt and oil, is on the forefront of crafting and modelling hobbies worldwide. Its versatility and ease of use have made it a favorite amongst hobbyists and professionals

As this distinctive materials finds its place, from modelling clay for teenagers to intricate artwork items, questions surrounding its environmental footprint develop louder.

The well being implications of working additionally warrant consideration. Although using sure dangerous phthalates has been banned within the EU and the USA, residual well being dangers stay for these often dealing with the fabric. 

Despite environmental considerations, the market is experiencing progress, significantly in rising markets like Asia Pacific and Latin America. This progress is attributed to rising disposable incomes and the recognition of artistic hobbies. 

We delve into the inexperienced evaluation of polymer clay, inspecting whether it is environmentally pleasant, biodegradable, or detrimental to our planet. This article explores each nook of polymer clay’s environmental footprint, from its manufacturing to its sustainability, and affords alternate options that pave the best way for a greener future in crafting.

What Is Polymer Clay?

Polymer clay is a flexible crafting materials primarily composed of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and a plasticiser, which makes it malleable and straightforward to form earlier than it’s cured. It is artificial, in contrast to conventional clay, containing pure minerals. 

This accessibility makes it a preferred alternative for artists and hobbyists to create numerous ornamental and purposeful objects similar to jewelry, sculptures, and residential decor.

The materials is accessible in many colors and results, together with translucent, metallic, and stone-like finishes. Users can combine totally different colors or add supplies like glitters and mica powders to attain numerous aesthetics.

Originally formulated as a possible substitute for Bakelite, polymer clay was popularised in artwork when German doll maker Käthe Kruse started utilizing it in 1939 underneath the title “FIMO.”

Composition and Properties

Polymer clay’s distinctive properties are derived from its two essential parts:

  1. PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride): This artificial polymer gives the structural spine of the clay.
  2. Plasticisers: These are added to the PVC to make the clay versatile and workable. Earlier formulations included phthalates, however fashionable polymer clays use safer alternate options as a result of well being considerations.

Curing Process

It cures at comparatively low temperatures starting from 265 °F to 275 °F (129 °C to 135 °C). The curing course of usually takes about 15 minutes per 1/4 inch of thickness, making it appropriate for dwelling ovens. This accessibility in curing permits lovers and professionals alike to create intricate designs with out the necessity for industrial kilns.

Polymer Clay vs Other Clays

Polymer clay primarily includes polyvinyl chloride (PVC), considerably differentiating it from different clays like air-dry and ceramic variants. Air-dry clay, because the title suggests, hardens upon publicity to air and usually has a lighter, spongier texture. Ceramic clay, then again, requires kiln firing at excessive temperatures to remedy.

Here’s a short comparability of polymer clay with different widespread varieties of clay:

Type of Clay Composition Curing Method Texture Colour Options Environmental Impact
Polymer Clay PVC-based Oven-baked Pliable Extensive High (as a result of PVC content material)
Air-Dry Clay Paper/Cellulose Air-dried Spongy Limited Low
Ceramic Clay Natural clay Kiln-fired Grainy Glazes/Stains Moderate

The Environmental Impact of Polymer Clay

PVC is an artificial polymer derived from non-renewable assets similar to petroleum or pure gasoline, making the manufacturing of polymer clay closely depending on fossil fuels. This reliance contributes to vital carbon emissions throughout each the manufacturing and disposal phases of the product’s life cycle​. 

Image Credit: Science Direct

Notably, PVC is just not biodegradable and may leach dangerous chemical compounds, complicating waste administration and recycling efforts. Approximately 40 million tonnes of PVC are produced yearly, with polymer clay making up a tiny fraction.  Despite its minor share, the environmental implications of its use and disposal are vital. 

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What is the affect of Polymer Clay?

The affect extends from its manufacturing to its disposal:

  • Production: The creation of PVC, the bottom element of polymer clay, includes poisonous chemical compounds that may hurt the setting. Chlorine manufacturing, a vital step in making PVC, releases dioxins, potent carcinogens.
  • Usage: Crafters are uncovered to phthalates, chemical compounds used to melt polymer clay, linked to well being points like reproductive issues and nerve system harm.
  • Disposal: Polymer clay objects, if not recycled, find yourself in landfills or the ocean, contributing to plastic air pollution. The breakdown of PVC releases dangerous chemical compounds, additional contaminating ecosystems.

Total Impact per Year

Globally, the market was valued at £22.6 million in 2021 and is projected to reach £29.5 million by 2030. This progress signifies an increasing use, exacerbating its environmental affect.

Impact per Day

Countless initiatives are created, used, and ultimately discarded each day, including to the ever-increasing plastic air pollution downside. Crafting and disposal contribute to the buildup of PVC within the setting, with long-term degradation releasing poisonous substances.

Impact per Usage

Each use, from crafting to disposal, provides to the environmental burden. The manufacturing of a single polymer clay merchandise includes the emission of greenhouse gases and probably exposes customers to dangerous chemical compounds.

The following desk summarises vital factors concerning the environmental affect:

Aspect Impact
Biodegradability Polymer clay is just not biodegradable, complicating disposal and recycling efforts.
Chemical Leaching It can leach dangerous chemical compounds, primarily when disposed of improperly.
Dioxin Release Burning polymer clay can launch dioxins, potent environmental pollution.
Micro Particles Sanding releases microparticles which will hurt aquatic environments.
Global PVC Production Polymer clay is a small a part of international PVC manufacturing however poses vital environmental challenges.
Recycling Challenges Difficult to recycle (9-10%) as a result of components and fillers that must be separated.

Polymer Clay Top Producing Countries

This widespread crafting materials has the best manufacturing volumes from numerous nations, every contributing considerably to the worldwide provide. These countries host major companies like Staedtler Mars, Polyform Products, Van Aken International, Polyform Products and American Art Clay, driving innovation and distribution within the trade.

The following desk gives an in depth take a look at the distribution of polymer clay shipments throughout key producing nations:

Country Shipments
China 830
Indonesia 443
United States 397
India 337
Thailand 64
Belgium 53
Germany 52
South Korea 22
Japan 16
United Kingdom 15
Other Countries Various

Here, we discover the main nations in manufacturing, characterised by the variety of shipments they dispatch yearly, highlighting their pivotal function out there. 

Leading Producers

China

At the forefront, China dominates the polymer clay market with a considerable 830 shipments yearly. This excessive quantity underscores China’s vital manufacturing capabilities and central function in supplying international markets.

Indonesia

Following China, Indonesia ranks the second-largest producer, contributing 443 shipments yearly. Indonesia’s sturdy manufacturing figures replicate its rising affect within the trade.

United States

The United States holds the third place with 397 polymer clay shipments yearly. This exhibits the US’s sturdy manufacturing capability and huge home product market.

India

India stands fourth, with 337 shipments, indicating a strong manufacturing base and a rising presence within the sector.

Thailand

Thailand rounds out the highest 5, dispatching 64 shipments every year. While smaller in quantity than the leaders, Thailand’s contribution is essential to the regional provide chain.

Other Notable Producers

Several different nations additionally play key roles within the manufacturing of polymer clay. Belgium, Germany, South Korea, Japan, and the United Kingdom have manufacturing figures starting from 15 to 53 shipments yearly. While not matching the output of the highest producers, these nations are vital gamers within the European and Asian markets.

Statistics, Facts and Figures About Polymer Clay

It has gained recognition worldwide as a result of its ease of use and suppleness in creating numerous ornamental and purposeful objects. However, its environmental affect, manufacturing, and utilization statistics reveal a posh image that varies considerably throughout totally different areas.

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Let’s delve into the fascinating world of polymer clay by the numbers.

Market Size

  • The polymer clay market has been experiencing regular progress, with projections indicating an increase from £24.34 million in 2022 to an estimated £33.27 million by 2030, marking a compound annual progress price (CAGR) of 4%.
  • The United States leads in market measurement progress and is anticipated to increase at a compound annual progress price (CAGR) via the forecast interval.

Usage Statistics by Region

  • North America: Dominates the polymer clay market with progressive makes use of in each residential and business sectors.
  • Europe: Germany, the UK, and France are vital customers, strongly specializing in eco-friendly alternate options as a result of stringent EU rules. It exhibits a rising development in direction of sustainable supplies, but it stays widespread for instructional {and professional} functions. 
  • Asia-Pacific: Rapidly increasing market with rising demand for customised polymer clay objects, pushed by rising disposable incomes and altering shopper preferences.
Region Annual Production (Tonnes) Yearly Consumption (Tonnes) Environmental Impact Score
Europe 20,000 18,000 High (Chemical pollution, PVC)
North America 15,000 14,000 Moderate (PVC waste, microplastics)
Asia-Pacific 10,000 12,000 Rising (High vitality consumption, PVC)
Rest of the World 5,000 6,000 Low (microplastics)

Environmental Impact

  • The manufacturing of PVC not solely consumes fossil fuels but in addition releases dioxins, a bunch of poisonous chemical compounds that may persist within the setting.
  • Polymer clay objects are non-biodegradable, contributing to long-term waste in landfills.
  • The world generates round 350 million tonnes yearly, with a considerable portion needing to be successfully managed or recycled.
  • Polystyrene, for instance, is notably proof against biodegradation as a result of its chemical construction. 
  • It contributes to round 86% of plastic emissions within the ocean. 

 Polymer Clay Brands

Brands of polymer clay embody Cernit, Oytra, Fimo, Kato Polyclay, Sculpey, PVClay Brasil, Crafty Argentina, and Cosclay.

  • Residential functions dominated the market, capturing over 50% of the share.
  • In 2021, strong polymer clay accounted for the biggest market share globally.
  • Recycling polymer clay stays difficult as a result of problem of separating its components and sorting totally different plastic sorts.
  • Polymer clay is a tiny proportion of all PVC produced globally, at about 40 million tonnes yearly.
  • PVC, the first element of polymer clay, accounts for about 20% of all plastic manufactured worldwide, making it the third-most extensively produced artificial plastic polymer.

Is Polymer Clay Toxic?

The most important concern includes the fumes launched throughout baking. When it’s overheated, it might probably produce fumes containing hydrochloric acid and different poisonous substances. These fumes can irritate the eyes, throat, and lungs, and extended publicity can result in extra extreme well being points.

There can also be a danger of inhaling microscopic particles if the clay is sanded or drilled with out correct safety.

However, the excellent news is that vital manufacturers attempt to observe the protected beneficial pointers. These clays have been examined and licensed to be non-toxic.

However, there are some key issues to bear in mind:

  • Safe Use is Key: Like many supplies, following correct dealing with methods is crucial. This consists of utilizing separate instruments for clay and meals, washing palms completely after use, and avoiding inhalation of mud from sanding or buffing cured clay.
  • Burning is Bad: Overheating or burning polymer clay is the place security considerations come up. When burnt, the clay can launch irritating fumes or vapours. Following the beneficial baking temperatures and avoiding overheating will forestall this. If unintended burning happens, ventilate the realm instantly.
  • Not Food-Safe: While cured polymer clay is inert, it may be porous. This means it’s not beneficial to be used with meals or drink as it might probably harbour micro organism.

Is Polymer Clay Biodegradable?

Unlike pure clay, polymer clay doesn’t biodegrade. Once baked, it might probably final for years with out breaking down, contributing to plastic air pollution.

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The essential concern with non-biodegradable polymer clay is the potential for leaching chemical components like phthalate plasticisers, that are linked to well being considerations like reproductive points and developmental problems. While sure phthalates have been banned in polymer clays offered within the US and EU, there are nonetheless residual worries concerning the security of working with these supplies.

Furthermore, it can’t be recycled via typical municipal recycling packages. This lack of biodegradability and recyclability signifies that the merchandise if discarded, contribute to the amount of everlasting waste in landfills.

Can it’s Sustainable?

Despite the challenges, there are steps to mitigate the environmental affect. The practices throughout the neighborhood, similar to recycling and repurposing, contribute positively in direction of sustainability objectives. 

However, its sustainability is a priority as a result of its PVC content material, reliance on fossil fuels, and the challenges related to disposal.

Environmental Impact Compared to Everyday Things

To perceive the environmental affect, evaluating it with on a regular basis objects generally used and disposed of in comparable portions is crucial. This comparability gives a clearer image of the place polymer clay stands concerning sustainability. 

We should first look at frequent objects’ CO2 ranges to know polymer clay’s affect. 

Item CO2 Emissions (kg CO2 per kg)
Polymer Clay 1.9
Cotton T-shirt 2.1
Plastic Water Bottle 6.0
Smartphone 55.0
Beef (per kg) 60.0

This desk reveals that whereas not negligible, its environmental affect pales in comparison with objects like smartphones and beef. For occasion, whereas polymer clay emits 1.9 kg of CO2 per kg, on a regular basis objects like plastic bottles generate considerably larger emissions—as much as 6.0 kg of CO2 per kg. 

It’s essential to notice that these figures provide a worldwide perspective, highlighting our broader environmental challenges.

What Are Alternatives to Polymer Clay

Exploring eco-friendly alternate options is crucial for these seeking to scale back their environmental footprint whereas partaking in artistic endeavours. Here, we current numerous substitutes catering to totally different wants and preferences, guaranteeing everybody can discover a appropriate possibility.

Eco-Friendly Alternatives to Polymer Clay

  1. Air-Dry Clay: Unlike polymer clay, air-dry clay doesn’t require baking in an oven. It hardens at room temperature, making it a safer and extra energy-efficient possibility. Air-dry clay can also be lighter, which might be advantageous for bigger initiatives.
  2. Paper Clay: Made from pure fibres, paper clay is biodegradable and non-toxic. It’s a wonderful alternative for artists and educators who’re acutely aware of the environmental affect of their supplies. Paper clay might be fired in a kiln, however it additionally air-dries solidly, providing flexibility in its use.
  3. Homemade Clay: You could make clay at dwelling utilizing cornstarch, white glue, and lemon juice. This DIY method permits full management over the supplies, guaranteeing they’re non-toxic and environmentally pleasant. Homemade clays typically mimic the feel and workability of polymer clay.
  4. Natural Clay: Extracted instantly from the earth, pure clay might be fired in a kiln to create sturdy ceramic items. This kind of clay is right for creative and purposeful objects, and it doesn’t include artificial supplies, making it a sustainable alternative.
  5. Cold Porcelain: This DIY different mixes cornstarch and glue, providing a non-toxic, cheap possibility, albeit a bit tough to work with as a result of its tackiness
  6. Recycled Paper Beads: For jewelry makers, recycled paper beads present a artistic and eco-friendly different to polymer clay beads. These beads are comprised of upcycled paper, lowering waste and avoiding using plastics.

Is Polymer Clay Better Than Its Alternatives?

While polymer clay affords unmatched versatility and sturdiness, it isn’t eco-friendly or biodegradable. The alternate options talked about above are extra sustainable and have a decrease environmental affect.

For occasion, air-dry and paper clays provide comparable workability with out baking, lowering vitality consumption and eliminating the discharge of doubtless dangerous fumes. Homemade and pure clays assist sustainability by utilising non-toxic, biodegradable supplies.

Moreover, utilizing recycled paper beads highlights the artistic reuse of supplies that may in any other case contribute to waste. Each different has distinctive properties and makes use of, making them corresponding to polymer clay and, in lots of instances, a more sensible choice for the planet and private well being.

Alternative Eco-Friendly Biodegradable Durability Cost (GBP)
Air-Dry Clay Yes Yes Moderate Low
Paper Clay Yes Yes Moderate Low
Natural Clay Yes Yes High* Moderate
Cold Porcelain Clay Yes Yes High Low
Stone Clay Yes Yes High* Moderate
Polymer Clay No No High High
*Requires firing in a kiln for added sturdiness.

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