Admiring the results of pollution sounds strange because of the inherent negative connotation “pollution” carries. Buckminster Fuller, a pioneering environmental activist, professes however that “pollution is nothing but the resources we are not harvesting. We allow them to disperse because we’ve been ignorant of their value.” Perhaps pollution is actually an untapped opportunity to do more with less- exactly what the following projects have set out to do. These ventures harness the pollution that plagues our environment and turn them into pigments and paints. These innovators have taken a problem and turned it into something beautiful, both environmentally friendly and marketable.
The minds at GRAVIKY labs have developed Air-Ink, the first ink that is made from air-polluting particles, specifically captures exhaust from vehicles. The KAALINK is a device that attaches to the exhaust pipes of vehicles and captures harmful pollutants before it disperses into the air. The collected soot is then purified and treated, resulting in an ink that safely contains the harmful pollutants.
Tiger Beer partnered with GRAVIKY Labs last year to create art from pollution, inviting artists to create using the ink in a street art event in Hong Kong. Murals were painted on the streets of the city, showing the bright possibility of an alternative to the smoke that clogs up our lungs. The project has captured the public’s imagination by challenging their understanding of what constitutes pollution. In doing so, it has received more than S$40,000 on its Kickstarter page, well above its goal of S$14,000 and the developers are hoping to develop a wider range of inks and paints in the future.
Although the inks are currently created for artist use, it would be quite marvellous if one day AIR INK could be used for everyday things, like ballpoint pens or in printers. 45 minutes of emissions from a single car can currently be used to create 30 ml of ink. Furthermore, the process of making Air-ink does not burn extra fossil fuels that making regular ink requires. If the collection of emissions is ever done on a massive scale, pollution can become a new source of every-day ink, and become a resource rather than a detriment.
Guy Riefler is a civil engineer professor at Ohio State University who has teamed up with John Sabraw, a Professor of arts in the same university to create art with sources of water pollution. The pigments that they create and paint with are produced from acid mine waste in rivers. Acid mine drainage occurs when the acidic water drains out from both abandoned and operating mines, and alters the acidity of the water in rivers and streams.
Riefler was trying to come up with a way to clean up the streams in southeast Ohio, and discovered that he could produce pigment from the waste. He then sought out help in producing a viable pigment and teamed up with Sabraw, who is known for creating his own paints.
The result was the creation of acrylic and oil paints, that the duo hope will become commercially viable and pay to clean up the water. The colours they currently produce range from vivid hues of yellow to brown to red to black. Sabraw’s series of paintings ‘Chroma’ uses these pigments to create mesmerizing paintings from something that is ugly and has robbed streams of biological life, and was recently exhibited in the United Nations headquarters in New York.
Both these projects have a unique take on combating pollution. By creating viable ways to use pollution, environmental clean-up is no longer about removing toxins from our environment but harnessing it for our own use. When we change our point of view and see a problem as an opportunity, we create the potential for many benefits. If we could implement this flexibility in tackling other environmental problems, perhaps a green environment is not so far in the future.