SF Design Week and Sustainability

Posted by Anne Fletcher on

 self watering pot with lettuce in gardenWe're really excited to announce that we've been invited to participate in an exhibit next month at SF Design week (virtual, of course) called Bay Area Made: Making a Sustainable Future.

In the process of applying and submitting our exhibit materials, we went through the questionnaire below about the sustainability practices we have here at Orta.  I don't write much about the technical backend of what we do very often, so I thought I'd share our responses here for all of you, along with the three product photos that will accompany our written answers in the exhibit.

self watering zero waste microgreen planter

  1. Briefly tell us about your company and what you make.

 Orta Kitchen Garden began as a dream to create tools that simplify gardening and connect people to nature. In 2011, founder Anne Fletcher made our first seed pot as a solution to sustain delicate herb seedlings. In her design, water is drawn as needed from the pot’s terracotta reservoir. After a year in her garage experimenting and teaching herself ceramics, she refined the designs and founded Orta to produce them at (modest) scale.

Today, our Oakland-based team of ceramicists, chemists and engineers produce a variety of pots and zero-waste kits. Everything we sell is made to last a lifetime and guaranteed to be plastic and toxin-free. We are proud to be green-to-the-core in all aspects of our business: from responsible manufacturing and eco-packaging, to our ongoing mission to connect customers with nature.

Orta comes from “kitchen garden” in Italian, to evoke the traditional garden where herbs, produce and flowers are cultivated for family and friends. We hope that our products can be the seeds for your own orta in a way that inspires a healthier and more sustainable lifestyle.  


Describe the following:

  1. The materials and ingredients you use to make your products. This can include finishes or treatments.

Orta pots are slip cast from from terracotta clay that comes out of the earth in Ohio.  We exclude many common additives when preparing the clay slip for casting, among them toxic barium carbonate.  Orta’s glazes are lead-free and non-toxic.


  1. The packaging materials and shipping/delivery methods you use.

 Orta’s packaging is 100% paper and always has been, since our founding.  The shipping packaging we use is also totally plastic-free, and is both compostable and recyclable.  We offer bicycle delivery for local customers, and otherwise ship FedEx ground.


  1. Why your products are high quality and designed and made to fulfill their function well, to last and not be disposable, and to be repairable.

 Properly made ceramics last a lifetime.  Orta’s pots are designed to work for decades with only minimal maintenance.


  1. How you minimize waste and implement low or zero-waste practices.

Orta’s waste minimization is focused on customers.  Orta pots allow gardeners to easily and consistently start their own plants from seeds, eliminating the need to buy nursery starts that come in non-recyclable plastic pots.  We also send customers exactly zero packaging that goes to the landfill.  Everything customers receive from Orta is a tool to reduce waste or it’s compostable / recyclable packaging.

In the studio, we minimize waste by recycling clay scrap at above average rates and keeping water use low.  Our glaze dipping process eliminates the waste inherent in the glaze spraying that is common in our industry.


  1. How you utilize local supply chains.

Though our clay originates in Ohio, we buy it and all our other ceramic materials from a distributor in Richmond.  Our paper packaging comes from three suppliers in Berkeley, Oakland and Modesto.  


  1. How you utilize energy efficiently in your production practices and workspace.

The way we glaze our pots is Orta’s most significant energy saver.  We spent almost a year formulating glaze recipes that allow us to fire our pots only once at low temperatures.  (Most low temperature ceramics are fired twice because it’s very hard to get good technical glaze performance with a single firing.)  The low temperatures and single fire allow us to significantly minimize the most energy intensive part of ceramics production.

Our glaze formulation also allows us to dip our pots into a liquid glaze bath instead of spraying the glaze in a paint booth, which is quite common in our industry.  While avoiding spraying saves some energy from the sprayer and spray booth fans, the main benefit is for air quality.  Even with spray booths and filters, glaze overspray is a messy business that puts fine particulates into the air.


  1. Any other sustainable practices that you implement.

We see our material and energy use sustainable practices as the bare minimum:  essential, but not nearly enough.  Our real contribution to a greener world is, we hope, in behavior and attitude change.  Simply replacing “bad” materials and processes with “good” ones, without considering underlying habits and assumptions, can create an even worse situation.  Citizens pat themselves on the back for making a “green” choice and otherwise continue with business as usual.

We strive to provide counterexamples to “business as usual,” helping people see that change is possible.  No, packages do not have to arrive with lots of plastic to be throw away. (If we can do it with pottery, anyone can do it.)  Yes, you can actually grow your own plants from seeds, and it’s magical to connect directly with nature at home, without any gadgetry.  An informed, empowered, connected citizen is a powerful citizen.  And it will take many powerful citizens working together to envision and create a new greener world.


  1. Do you have any goals or aspirations regarding your sustainable practices?

 Our plaster molds go to the landfill when they have finished their useful life.  In theory plaster can be recycled.  But in practice, it requires machines, space and expertise we don’t have, and that don’t make sense at our scale of operations.  Our long term goal is to work together with other ceramics businesses and to acquire the necessary equipment to close the loop on plaster.

 basil starts in self-watering planters





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