Ignorance is Bliss project repurposes waste metal as pigments

With her ongoing Ignorance is Bliss project, designer Agne Kucerenkaite repurposes metal waste from industries as pigments to make new valuable products, including ceramic glaze and textiles.

Metals are a non-renewable resource, and the mining affects water and air quality. Various industries generate metal waste, including water treatment plants and soil remediation companies. The waste from these companies comes in the form of sludge, and consists of a mixture of various metals, which can include iron, manganese, aluminium, magnesium, barium and zinc.

Kucerenkaite experimented with various techniques to find a suitable use for this metal waste. She conducted a broad-scale material research, which showed the material has a great potential for colouring purposes. The sludge first has to be processed to be used as a pigment, by drying, milling and sieving it.

Because the textile industry is causing a lot of environmental problems, mostly from the dyeing process, Kucerenkaite decided to use the metal pigments for the colouring process of fabric. She uses non-toxic samples from the metal waste, which includes iron. Iron can be used to create rich colours. In addition, it works as a mordant, preventing colours to fade, which makes it perfect for dyeing textiles.

In addition to textile dyes, Kucerenkaite also used the waste metal to develop ceramic glaze. Common glazes are made with toxic materials. When fired at high temperatures, the glaze becomes hard and glass-like, changing the chemical structure so that the toxicity can’t leak out. The composition of the metal waste the designer uses is the same as industrially produced colour pigments and is therefore a suitable and sustainable alternative.

In 2017 Jordy’s, a restaurant in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, commissioned a project in which Kucerenkaite used the ceramic glaze for a series of tiles. The tiles were handmade by the designer and glazed using industrial metal waste. Because of the hand glazing and waste pigments, each tile is truly unique.

It’s Kucerenkaite’s goal to challenge the current industrial colour mass-production. Her research reveals a diversity in colours on the ceramics and textiles, depending on the used techniques.

To Kucerenkaite, it’s important for the industries to collaborate in shifting towards the circular economy. The building and fashion industry occupy a huge market and the current demand fro using sustainable, recycled and upcycled materials is growing. The beauty of the Ignorance is Bliss project is that it can be adapted to the local market as basically all water treatment plants have residues containing metal sludge.

Click here for the metal waste tiles in our collection.

Photos: Agne Kucerenkaite