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Sustainable Art Painting


The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)'s National School Lunch Program (NSLP) serves 30 million kids every school day, but it also wastes about $5 million worth of edible food daily, highlighting the need for schools to reexamine their strategies and take proactive steps to reduce food waste. The primary objective of this research is to create value-added products from waste materials, specifically natural pigments intended for use in art education and for industry. This involves developing an accessible downsized design toolki, that facilitates the recycling of fruit and vegetable waste from school cafeterias into natural pigments for art classes. The ultimate aim is to encourage local school communities to actively engage in a systemic transformation towards a Circular Economy (CE) by taking proactive roles in recycling food waste to natural powder pigments, and reusing them in K-12 art painting class. 



The team members are currently co-developing an  accessible, downsized design toolkit with the school community. This toolkit facilitates  the separate collection of fruit and vegetable waste in school cafeteria, transforming it  from school cafeteria fruit and veg byproducts and editable waste into natural pigments  for art class resources. By engaging the school community during the design process,  we aim to increase their awareness of their unique role and actively engage them in the  design process for systemic transformation towards a Circular Economy (CE).

To  understand the context of the research, we worked closely with BMS by interviewing art  teachers and observing the school cafeteria's environment to gain a deeper  understanding of the behaviors that contribute to food waste. Then we started to  understand the most disposed fruit and veg in school cafeteria (ie. Carrot, celery,  blueberry and cornhusk), design requirement for art class tool for waste transformation, and started to co-develop the tool. As the initial prototypes has developed, our series of  toolkit was displayed and tested during the 'Hokie for a Day' and the Science Festival by  encouraging participating youth to create drawings and art pieces using these toolkits  and pigments. The involvement in the event provided an opportunity for us with gain  invaluable feedback on our toolkit's design and the quality of pigments produced.

These  events also offer a unique platform for educating young individuals on painting with  natural pigments, assessing the toolkit's functionality, and collecting their insights.  Throughout this project, we have been developing several key innovations:

  • Design:  The 'Misdirection Collection Bin', which is color-coded bin potentially installed in school  cafeteria to align with the disposal of fruit and vegetable waste for pigment extraction.
  • Design and sustainable biomaterial processing technology: The 'Color Escaper' tool, an  educational device that instructs young people in the process of extracting liquid forms of natural pigment from fruit and vegetable byproducts and edible waste.
  • Design and  engineering: A downsized, community-friendly spray system that enables the conversion  of liquid extracted pigment into powder based natural pigments for longer preservation. 
  • Art: A collection of children’s artworks, including paintings and pieces created using  the natural pigments derived from this process. 

Additionally, art pieces painted with the produced natural ink were selected for the 'Call  for Art: New Visions: Captured Innovation' exhibit at the Hilton Alexandria Mark Center.

Future planned educational and outreach activities

  • A one-day workshop session at Pulaski Art Center in January 1) to further refine the  toolkit series we have developed, 2) to teach how to make natural pigment and paint  with the produced pigment. 
  • Two after-school activities with 8th graders at BMS in January, aimed at 1) advancing  the toolkit series created in collaboration with youth and art teachers. 2) to teach how to  make natural pigment and paint with the produced pigment. 
  • A six-week program at the YMCA designed to teach kids how to sort appropriate fruit  and vegetable waste, extract pigments using our toolkit, and create artwork with natural  pigments. 
  • A Stormwater Day event focused on instructing participants on sorting suitable fruit and  vegetable waste, extracting pigments with our toolkit, and painting with natural pigments. 
  • Publication submitted: Proceeding submitted to Design Research Society 2024 Boston.  
  • External fund submitted: National Endowment for the Arts grant submitted. (Expected to  hear the result in April 2024) 
  • Planned Exhibitions and workshop: In the process of potential possibility to exhibit and  conduct workshop at Torpedo factory art center. 
  • Planned to submit for award: IDSA award 2025, European design award 2025


Additional information about the project: