Material gains from university partnerships

9th August 2019

As our environmental awareness grows so does our curiosity about the sustainability of our practices. Understanding the story behind products can help us value the precious commodities they are made from and change our practices to reduce waste and damage. Scottish craft makers and designers have been collaborating with design and science academics to recover, reuse and make textiles, leather, plastics and precious metals from waste. They aim to raise our awareness and make their businesses more environmentally sustainable.

Jeweller Sandra Wilson has been working with the Love Chemistry group at University of Edinburgh to recover gold from e-waste. It can take as much as a tonne of mined ore to yield 9 grams of gold but a tonne of e-waste can generate around 300 grams of gold. You need just 41 smartphones to generate 1 gram of gold. So non-hazardous recovery methods could be a real boon for goldsmiths. Using Hydrometallurgy, Sandra has learnt to recover gold from computing e-waste and is keen to develop a new kind of hallmark to prove its provenance. Through the beautiful objects Sandra produces she is encouraging us to value and utilise the commodities we are throwing away.

A mixture of legislation, consciousness and need for financial efficiencies is driving manufacturers to look for ever more inventive ways to shrink wastage. Design academic Sam Vettese from Edinburgh Napier University has been working with science colleagues and textiles mills and leather companies to find ways of reducing their leftover materials. By combining leather dust waste created in commercial buffing processes with biodegradable plastic she has helped create a new filament which can be used to repair saddles and seats to increase their useful life. Her current challenge is to grow new leather and textile substitute materials on nutrient rich manufacturing waste.

Driven by concern about the sustainability of their production materials a group of Edinburgh makers have been working with green chemists at University of Edinburgh to investigate how using biodegradable and repurposed plastics could reduce their carbon footprint. They have been experimenting with alternatives to heavy, fragile ceramics and natural fibres with a high carbon footprint. Using plant-based plastics and filaments made from old fridges the makers are reducing the costs and fuel used to fire their kilns and ship their work whilst challenging thinking about plastic.

Interface presentations at Applied Arts Scotland and Xpo North events aimed to encourage and inspire others to look at how they could review their practices. What do you want to change or improve? What do you want to find the solution to? Come and talk to Interface about your innovative ideas and we’ll find the academic expertise to help you realise them.