Oh, what would the world be like without colors? We have all sorts of colors now thanks to something called pigment. But we all know that because humanity needs it, manufacturers have been creating the bad, artificial kind of pigment and it’s not good for the environment. But this device lets you make your own pigments using fruit and veggie waste.
The device is called Kaiku, a system made by Nicole Stjernswärd that turns plants into powdered paint pigments using vaporisation technology. With this, you can turn fruits and veggies like beetroots, lemons, onions, avocados, and pomegranates into raw material for paints, inks, and dyes.
So how does it work? Firstly, skins and peels are boiled in water to produce a dye, and then it’s transferred to a reservoir in the device. Hot and pressurised air will take the dye through an atomising nozzle into a glass vacuum chamber.
Vaporizing process happens almost instantly because the mist is hot enough. After that, the dry particles are pulled through the chamber and into the collection reservoir. And there goes your pigment.
As I mentioned before, artificial and human made pigments are not all good for the environment. That’s why Stjernswärd designed Kaiku. She wants to offer a natural, better alternative in order to make non-toxic type of pigment available.
Stjernswärd, who studied at Imperial College London and the Royal College of Art, said, “By transitioning to natural based pigments, it will be easier for us to recycle products and make them more circular,”
“Since many synthetic pigments today are toxic or made of ambiguous materials, colour is typically considered a ‘contamination’ in the Circular Economy principles. I hope to change this paradigm.”
The Imperial graduate began her project by interviewing artists and meeting with David Peggie, a chemist who works at London’s National Gallery. She did those to better understand the paint pigments used by both the old masters of art history and contemporary painters.
Back then, pigments were all natural. Blues were derived from lapis lazuli stones, yellows were from ochre clay, reds from crushed up wings of beetles, and purple were from crushed up shellfish (and it stank because of fermentation).
However, these methods slowly died out because of industrialization and the introduction of cheaper pigments derived from petrochemicals. It’s more available and cheaper, yes, but it has a negative effect on people and the environment.
Artificial paints can release petrochemicals into the air long after they have dried. This can cause respiratory problems and it can harm the ozone layer. Other than that, the dyes can go into the water system, which can poison aquatic life as well as bring health hazard to humans. Being a natural pigment, the ones created from Kaiku aren’t going to do that. And also, since you can just use food waste to make pigments, there won’t be any rotting food in landfills.
Stjernswärd said, “Because the pigments are dry powder, this means they can be used as an additive in almost any paint recipe. As a paint, I have successfully tried them with egg tempera, watercolour and inks. In terms of materials, I’ve tried them with agar bioplastics, bacterial cellulose, paper, fabric, plaster, and wood veneer. I could see applications with biomaterials, traditional artist’s paints, printer inks, pen inks, and even cosmetics.”
Now, you might think that since avocado peels are dark green, it will create earthy tone pigment, right? Well no. Nature has very interesting ways of producing colors. Avocado skins and peels contain tannins, so they produce deep red dye that becomes orange as a paint and blush color when it becomes a fabric dye.
Because they contain tannins, avocado skins and peels produce a ruby-red dye that appears orange as paint or dyes fabric a pinky-blush colour. Additionally, pomegranates and onions make a yellow dye (interesting, right?) and when you add vinegar or baking soda to the dye, the colors will change. To see if her natural pigments works in certain ways, Stjernswärd has worked with painters and textile designers.
At first glance, you might think that the device’s name is Japanese or sorts, but it’s actually Finnish, the language of Stjernswärd’s grandmother that means echo. “The name speaks to the inherent value within the pigments, which, compared to conventional colours are normally treated as inert things without a story or past,” said Stjernswärd. “These colours sometimes behave in surprising ways, which makes you remember they came from living plants.”
Not just Stjernswärd, other design graduates have also created their own innovations. They have a similar theme, which is sustainable materials. Some have produced a system that grows mushrooms from used coffee grounds, and some have created a filter that turns household cooking waste oils and fats into soap.
Well, it seems that we’re going to have a bright future in sustainability after all.