Material Monday: The future of colour is plant waste

Written for and published by Nirvana Creative Production House

In pursuit of making our world more sustainable, it is important that we look through every aspect of the production process to ensure no stone is left unturned.

Adding colour is significant in any design process, but the potential impact of creating dyes isn’t always considered. If we are researching into what could make product production more ethical, it’s important to reflect on all components during manufacturing.

It’s important to note that most colours used for consumer products are derived from petrochemicals. As any petroleum-derived products, their multi-step production carries a potential risk of oil spills during extraction and releases fossil fuel emissions. Both of which add to the environmental damage. Furthermore, in addition to the environmental harm, the concern to our health is rising due to unnecessary toxins being released into the atmosphere.

Offering a solution to this, KAIKU Living in Color, is designed to reuse plant waste to produce high value colour pigments. The concept was introduced by Nicole Stjernswärd, a Royal College of Art MA graduate. After realising there was a very limited number of alternatives to petrochemical-based paints, Stjernswärd wanted to create a sustainable substitute, which would lower the impact on the environment as well as on the health of humans. During research for her project, Stjernswärd discovered that most people did not have an understanding about colour and do not consider the science behind its production. But with many not having a great understanding of the colour making process, how can we promote pigment production from natural ingredients?

KAIKU, as sustainable alternative, proposes production of colour pigments from plant waste. After thorough research of new methods, teaming up with artists and scientists as well as experiencing various failures in results early on, KAIKU was established. Stjernswärd delved deep into the colour process by shadowing a pigment chemist at the National Gallery, along with speaking to paint formulation scientists at Imperial College. This led to new tests and products which she pitched to a textile designer and oil painter, who were both enthusiastic about the outcome.

Her method involves using plants or fruits like avocados and oranges which have colour within their peel. These pigments can be extracted and reused for colour creation. Using existing waste streams and technology, KAIKU turns the unwanted into a desired resource.

KAIKU’s production process is described as the following:

1. Plant waste is collected – specifically, rinds, seeds and leafy tops of plants

2. They are then converted into liquid dyes by boiling for 1-2 hours

3. The dyes are then vaporised, using extraction tubes with a water pump, and converted to dry pigments in a machine

4. From this point, the dry pigments can then be used in design production

The unique process means each colour produced is individually different from the next depending on the growing conditions of each plant used. The end results can be used for printing, painting, textile dye and much more whilst having very little impact on our surroundings. If you would like to know more about how it works, you can read about the process here. The project not only tackles the ever-growing issue of sustainability by providing a method of design that has very little impact on the environment, but they also address excessive food waste disposal. By taking the fruit and vegetables that would have otherwise been thrown away, KAIKU rescues the valuable paint pigments within their skin. Furthermore, the availability of land for both dye plants and food crops is not available, but by combing the two to create colour and crops, the problem is solved.

By stripping back the layers of colour creation, KAIKU’s traditionally inspired method of extraction is still able to produce high quality results with minimal harm. With conversations flowing about creating a circular economy by reusing what we already having, KAIKU is very much aiding in the efforts to do so. ‘The future of colour is plant waste!’

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