Ocean Plastics Find New Life In Jewellery

Dr Katharina Vones turns ocean plastics into biodegradable materials for jewellery

In 2017, a whale was euthanised off the West Coast of Scotland. Scientists discovered four kilos of plastic bags in its stomach. The same year, a killer whale named Lulu was found dead on the pristine shores of Tiree. Lulu’s body contained the highest levels of polychlorinated biphenyls ever recorded.

Did you know that each year between 4.8 and 12.7 million tonnes of plastic enters our oceans? If we continue at the current rate, by 2050 there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish.

Dr Katharina Vones of Edinburgh Napier University is working as part of a team there to address startlingly high levels of pollution by transforming ocean plastics into a new biodegradable material that can be used to make jewellery.

Katharina and her co-investigator Ian Lambert of Edinburgh Napier University had their first ocean plastics scoping expedition to the Isle of Harris in August, as part of her project funded by the Carnegie Trust for the Scottish Universities. They are now using the gathered ocean plastic to create a new material in conjunction with a biodegradable PLA (polylactic acid). The two types of plastic are combined to produce a filament for 3D printing, the uses for which are limited only by the imagination.

Ocean Plastics on Scotlands West CoastPlastics found washed ashore on the Isle of Harris.
Photos taken by Dr Katharina Vones during her plastics scoping expedition this summer.

Katharina, who describes herself as a digital jeweller, also works at the Edinburgh College of Art, and is half-way through an EU funded project as part of the Horizon 2020 WearSustain initiative.

This project focuses on developing interactively playful wearables that can be used in a health and wellbeing context from sustainably produced and smart materials. Her collaborator is electronic engineer Dr Lourdes Alwis, who specialises in sensor development using optical fibres. The resulting convergence of technical and design expertise embraces the narrative of interdisciplinarity that is at the heart of promoting innovation within interactive craft.

Prototypes of the pieces she has developed for the WearSustain initiative, as well as material samples showing her processes from another project she was previously involved in at the Centre for Art and Design Research at Edinburgh Napier University [ “New Processes for Transforming unexploited Textiles into high value Products”, Principal Investigator: Dr Sam Vettese, funded by the SFC Textile Futures Forum ] will be on display at Elements, as part of the Elements Exhibition, Perspectives: Creating Jewellery for a Fairer Future from October 19-21 at Lyon and Turnbull.

Katharina is exploring the potential of these new materials and using them to inspire new works, while also challenging fast fashion and shedding light on societal waste. We encourage you to take the time to see the results of these live research projects at Elements.

Originally published Oct 3rd, 2018 by Emily MacDonald.