Meet The Scottish Artist 3D-Printing Ocean Plastic Into Inventions

Source: Hakai Magazine/Faith Rudebusch 

Photo: Brian Yurasits/The TerraMar Project


When Kathy Vones looks out on a trash-coated beach, she sees possibilities in the pollution. While many people see ocean plastic only as rubbish, she sees its value—artistic and otherwise.

Vones is a digital artist who designs jewelry that can change color or shape in response to its surroundings. While researching wearable smart materials for her recently earned doctorate, she immersed herself in the study of a mind-boggling array of futuristic and sustainably sourced materials. So, Vones was intrigued when a colleague at Edinburgh Napier University showed her photos of the massive amounts of ocean plastic coating Scotland’s Outer Hebrides Islands. She was struck by the idea that in the not-too-distant future, waste plastic plucked from the beach may be considered a precious commodity.

She’s not alone in that view. In 2016, the Scottish government launched an ambitious initiative to develop a circular economy, eliminating waste and slowing the consumption of new materials while investing in novel techniques to salvage and repurpose the refuse. This move, along with concerns about the environmental toll of ocean plastic, inspired Vones to act.

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Photo: Brian Yurasits/The TerraMar Project