Amber Waste is Bliss
- story by Studio Agne
Agne Kucerenkaite makes bioplastics and biocomposites with the residual flow from the production of jewellery and small objects made of amber. Amber is high-priced, but tonnes of amber dust disappear down the sewer because the industry sees it as a low-grade material.
Amber is fossilized tree resin derived from extinct resin-bearing trees. It belongs to the organic semi-precious stones. Fossilization of the resin takes millions of years. Although deposits of amber occur throughout the world, amber from the coast of the Baltic Sea is the best-known. Because amber floats on saltwater, many pieces wash ashore on the beaches of Poland and Lithuania. Worked amber is dating back to 11,000 B.C. Amber was and is used to make varnish, incense, decorative objects, jewellery and medicine. The production of jewellery and carving is usually done by hand with tools such as saws, fine-toothed files, drills, diamond disks, and sandpaper. After crafting amber there is left a huge amount of waste called amber dust. It can accumulate in tonnes and just a small amount of it is being sold. Mostly because it is contaminated with sandpaper and thus the value is lost. It is disposed of into dumpsters or even sewage.
Today around 90% of the world’s amber comes from the Baltic region. China is amber’s biggest market. The good-quality amber from the Baltic region is sold to China, leaving an imported lower-quality amber. Amber mining and processing have caused widespread environmental degradation. More than 100 million tonnes of waste have been discharged into the Baltic from the Yantarny mine in Kaliningrad over the past century. The high Chinese demand caused the establishment of the black market, which is primarily located in Ukraine, Russia, and Myanmar. The mining technique itself completely decimates the soil, making it incapable of sustaining plant life. By comparing fossils of the species and ecosystems in amber, scientists are starting to tackle giant questions about extinction, conservation, and the evolutionary history of the species we see today. Though thousands of specimens do find their way into the hands of scientists, many more are put to industrial or decorative use.
Amber is a natural bio-resin, which is becoming soft at 150 C degrees and starting to melt at 250-300 C degrees. A full scope of material research is conducted by softening and melting the amber dust, creating methods, analyzing properties, deconstructing it by adding new biomaterials and binders, altering its properties, and changing colours. Amber is transformed into completely new material to create a range of usable more cost-effective interior products, such as panels, tiles, and furniture parts. The great inspiration is The Amber Room, which is a reconstructed chamber decorated in amber panels located in the Catherine Palace near Saint Petersburg. Constructed in the 18th century in Prussia, the original Amber Room was dismantled and eventually disappeared during World War II. Currently to decorate the interior with amber would come with an extremely high cost, but it could become possible with a transformation of the amber dust.