Kajkāo: biomaterials from cacao against precariousness
Date: 21.07.2020

Can design help to improve cacao farmers’ quality of life while reducing the environmental effect produced by chocolate consumption and cacao production? With this question in mind, Carla Anderson, Alumni from the Master's Degree in Product Design and Development of Elisava, is part of a group of Italian-Ecuadorian designers, architects and anthropologists that have launched the Kajkāo project.

Only 50% of the material collected from cacao crops is needed to make chocolate, while the rest goes to waste. Thus, Kajkāo aims to make use of these agricultural residues to convert them into new compostable and biodegradable biomaterials, and at the same time create new income opportunities for small farmers living in Ecuador in precarious conditions.

Lowering the ecological footprint

The biomaterials Kajkāo has developed are biodegradable and compostable and contribute to lowering the ecological footprint by reducing CO2 emissions from agricultural composting, and minimizing contaminating phenols that deteriorate the quality, texture and mineral content of the soil. Plant-based leather, bioplastic, cardboard, insulation panels, wood, and cork-like applications are some of the outcomes achieved by this group. Some of these biomaterials have no additives while others incorporate up to 2% of other bio components.

The group envisions bringing together investors, investigators, scientists and designers to support Kajkāo in order to direct consumption habits towards a circular lifestyle and contribute to raising awareness of the social and environmental impact generated by the consumption of chocolate, and shift the perspective of the place people occupy on earth and the finite resources that we have available in our local environment.

A referent of sustainable design

Kajkāo believes a circular economy approach has the power to reach outcomes that will directly benefit communities in Ecuador, the environment and ultimately the world, by having an impact throughout the cacao production and supply chain, by adding value to unused product that would become waste otherwise, and by providing a longer lifespan to the product itself.

This past June, the group participated in the Isola Design District digital platform, on the occasion of Milan Design Week 2020. So far the project has been very well received, highlighting its contribution to the development of sustainable design.