5 Ways Designers Are Using Pollution For Good

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Image: Bury Pollution Garment: Alex Tosti

Today, one in eight global deaths is linked to air pollution exposure. But in a heavily polluted world, some designers are taking pollution as an inspiration for their work, coming up with innovative solutions to deal with the problem of pollution.

Here are 5 projects we think are forging new territory dealing with one of our most loathsome after effects of industrialization and humans, pollution.

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Image: Chakr,Prateek Sachan

1. Printing with Pollution Ink

Identifying soot as a major contributor to air pollution, the team behind New Delhi-based Chakr invented a way to pull soot from the air and turn it into an ink. Soot is a serious issue for residents of New Delhi – who live in one of the world’s most polluted cities – and has been identified as the second biggest contributor to global warming after carbon dioxide. Removing soot from the air and turning it into paint and ink allows Chakr to make a value-added product instead. According to Chakr, every liter of paint helps to purify over 100 million liters of air.

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Image: Smog Free Ring: Studio Roosegaarde

2. Making Jewelry from Smog

What if you could wear smog instead of breathing it in? That’s what designer Daan Roosegaarde made possible with his Smog Free Project, creating the world’s largest smog vacuum, a large tower that uses ion technology to remove smog and create bubbles of clean air. Jewelry is made from the residue of the collected smog, in both rings and cufflinks, each piece equivalent to purifying 1000 cubic meters of air. The first pilot project of Smog Free Project launched in Rotterdam in the fall of 2015 and more are planned in cities around the world.

Bury from Yuchen Zhang on Vimeo.

3. A Hoodie That Protects Against Inhaling Polluted Air

With a built in filtration mask, the Bury garment by Yuchen Zhang is designed with pollution in mind. Acknowledging the rising levels of pollution around the world, Zhang made a protective and adaptive garment which blends functionality and style. As Zhang writes on her website, “the garment illustrates an environment where we have almost depleted the protection of our atmosphere.”

Carbon Upcycling: Turning Carbon Dioxide into CO2NCRETE from UCLA Luskin on Vimeo.

4. Converting Pollution Into 3D Printing Material

Concrete is the second most consumed material on earth, topped only by water, and the cement industry alone is responsible for 5% of greenhouse gas emissions. But what if some of our greenhouse gas emissions could be turned into a concrete alternative instead? A team at UCLA is working on a way to capture carbon from power plant emissions and turn it into a new material which can be used in 3D printers. “What this technology does is take something that we have viewed as a nuisance — carbon dioxide that’s emitted from smokestacks — and turn it into something valuable,” said J.R. DeShazo, professor of public policy at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs and director of the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation, in a press release. The team is not the first to work on capturing carbon from power plants, but they are the first to work on turning it into a material which can be used as a cement alternative. The material has been produced in a lab, and the next step is to work on producing it on a larger scale. “This technology could change the economic incentives associated with these power plants in their operations and turn the smokestack flue gas into a resource countries can use, to build up their cities, extend their road systems,” said DeShazo.

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Image: Plant Bag: Delta/SIGN Horticulture Innovation Foundation

5. A Backpack That Filters Air

Instead of wearing an air mask, what if you could get clean air from your backpack? Students at Delft University of Technology won an award for their “Plant Bag,” a backpack outfitted with a filter which takes in outside air and filters it through the roots of a plant housed in the bag. While only a concept, portable air purification systems like this one could allow people living or traveling in heavily polluted areas easy access to clean air.