Dutch artist Jalila Essaidi is donning a lab coat which she hopes will one day be made of cow manure. Yes, cow manure. She hopes to develop a solution to the environmental problems in the Netherlands and worldwide caused by an overabundance of farm animal waste.
The Netherlands isn't the only country with a cow poop problem. Animal operations like dairy farms and feedlots all over the world produce mind-boggling volumes of manure every year. Manure contains chemical elements like nitrogen and phosphorus — the stuff we put on our gardens in the form of fertilizers — which are natural parts of every ecosystem, and essential for plant and animal growth. But those same substances can also can be incredibly toxic to the water, air and soil in large quantities.
Many countries in the world have regulations in place to cap how much of these nutrients that can escape into the environment, and the nutrient output in the Netherlands has already exceeded what its government currently deems acceptable, and is much higher than their goals of further reducing nutrient output from dairy farms in the coming years. (Think this is just a modern problem? Think again — check out this Stuff You Missed in History Class podcast episode about a similar problem more than 100 years ago.)
As it is, Dutch dairy farmers currently have to limit how many cows they keep and pay the government to safely dispose of their manure, causing some friction between farmers and the government. But Essaidi has a goal of neutralizing these political and environmental problems by turning that cow manure into a material she calls Mestic (a play on “mest,” the Dutch word for manure) that can be used to make paper, plastics and fabrics.
Making Mestic involves first treating manure at its farm of origin, which requires separating the urine from the feces — a process Essaidi's team is still working on. Once the right components of the waste are extracted, they're taken to the lab to chemically break them down into high-grade bio-plastic and cellulose pulp.
With these raw materials, almost anything is possible, from plastic plates to couture dresses.
Essaidi and her team are working toward creating a product that can be extruded through a 3-D printer, and they're even planning to build a bridge out of manure-based material, as soon as they figure out how to create a product that isn't biodegradable.
Here's a little more from Mestic about the weird new eco-fashion process: