1. News

Natural Pigments From Fruit and Vegetable Waste

Chander Mohan
Chander Mohan
kaiku nicole stjernsaward

Nicole Stjernsward, an Imperial college graduate has developed Kaiku, a system that turns plants into powdered paint pigments with the use of vaporization technology. In fact, it turns fruit and vegetable waste into natural pigments. Avocados, pomegranates, beetroots, lemons and onions are just some of the fruits and vegetables that can be placed into Kaiku and turned into the raw material for paints, inks and dyes. Stjernsward designed Kaiku to offer a natural alternative to using artificial pigments that can often be toxic. 

Skins and peels are boiled in water to produce a dye, which is transferred to a reservoir in the Kaiku system. Along with hot, pressurized air this dye is forced through an atomizing nozzle into a glass vacuum cleaner. The fine mist produced is hot enough that it vaporizes almost instantly, and the dry particles are pulled through the chamber and into the collection reservoir. 

"Since many synthetic pigments today are toxic or made of ambiguous materials, colour is typically considered a 'contamination' in the Circular Economy principles," she added. "I hope to change this paradigm." 

Stjernsward  started her project by interviewing artists & meeting with David Peggie, a chemist who works at London's National Gallery, to understand properly the paint pigments used by both the old masters of art history and contemporary painters. 

Originally pigments were derived from nature, such as blues from lapis lazuli stones, yellows from ochre clay and reds from the crushed up wings of beetles. Vegetables such as onions were traditionally used to dye fabrics. 

kaiku nicole

"Since many synthetic pigments today are toxic or made of ambiguous materials, colour is typically considered a 'contamination' in the Circular Economy principles," she added. "I hope to change this paradigm."

These methods have fallen out of fashion with industrialization and the introduction of cheaper pigments derived from petrochemicals. But the effect on people and the environment can be disastrous.

Paints can release petrochemicals into the air long after they have dried, causing respiratory problems and harming the ozone layer. Industrial effluent containing synthetic dyes leaches into the water system, poisoning aquatic life and posing a major health hazard to humans.

Kaiku offers an alternative system that uses food waste that would otherwise rot in landfill to produce non-toxic pigments. "Because the pigments are dry powder, this means they can be used as an additive in almost any paint recipe," said Stjernsward.

Pomegranates and onions make a yellow dye, and adding vinegar or baking soda to the dye is a way of modifying the resulting colours.  Stjernsward is working with painters and textile designers to test ways to use the pigments. Kaiku means echo in Finnish, the language of her grandmother. 

"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," she said.  "These colours sometimes behave in surprising ways, which makes you remember they came from living plants."

Sustainable materials are a major theme for design graduates this year, who have produced a system that grows mushrooms from used coffee grounds, and a filter that turns household cooking waste oils and fats into soap. 


Like this article?

Hey! I am Chander Mohan. Did you liked this article and have suggestions to improve this article? Mail me your suggestions and feedback.

Share your comments

Subscribe to our Newsletter. You choose the topics of your interest and we'll send you handpicked news and latest updates based on your choice.

Subscribe Newsletters