When we think about food waste, it is natural to focus on what we directly consume – but not what happens further back in the chain. If we purchase a bottle of juice, some of the fruit is used for the juice but the rest might be wasted. What if it could be used as a resource?
Businesses are now developing innovative ways to do just this, with the sustainable fashion and beauty industries leading the way. Your breakfast juice could also be part of the cycle that makes your new Citrus Silk dress, as vegan ‘silk’ fabric can now be made of cellulose produced from orange peel.
In the search for leather alternatives, fruit is also an unlikely component of the flexible, breathable lookalikes just starting to be seen in online collections.
Sustainable footwear folks POZU use a trademarked Frumat Apple Skin Leather; a byproduct from apples grown organically in the Italian Alps for juicing. The leftovers after pressing are dried, powdered, mixed with pigments and binders, then spread onto a canvas base. This supple material then ends its long journey from the tree as a pair of trainers.
Your ‘leather’ jacket could now be sewn from a material that looks like hide but is made from pineapple leaves. The pineapple-growing industry produces around 40,000 tonnes of leaf waste every year, and by using these existing resources this innovative material requires no additional land, water, pesticides, or fertilisers for the leaf fibres.
Similarly, clothing company Pangaia’s Vegea grape leather repurposes grape skins, pulp and stems from Italian winemaking processes to make a composite, biobased material. But it’s worth knowing the full picture as there are also downsides to these new materials.
A common component of all these leather alternatives are binding agents like polyurethane (PU) which means they won’t biodegrade and are hard to recycle. Most vegan leathers are PVC-based, which is made entirely from fossil fuels, but the newer vegetable oil and water-based polyurethane (PUD) used in Vegea grape leather are a step forward, vastly reducing fossil fuel inputs.
Alternatives that are not only made from waste but are biodegradable should be what we work towards. Banana plant stems, for example, have emerged as amazing resource which can be made into strong, durable, silken fibres. More than 100 billion bananas are consumed globally each year, generating an estimated 270 million tonnes of peel and stalks, which are usually burned or sent to landfill. This either causes air pollution or releasing methane into the atmosphere, both of which contribute to global warming.
Last year, Wicked Leeks reported on a new range of jeans by ethical denim company Hiut Denim made using banana stems, and another innovative use has emerged in 2021 from newly launched US hair braid company Rebundle. Most faux hair is made from acrylic coated plastic that can irritate the scalp upon contact and usually ends up in landfill, but Rebundle’s ‘braid better’ uses specially treated banana fibres that are non-toxic and itch-free.
Founder Ciara Imani May’s mission is creating space for black women in ‘clean’ beauty where alternatives don’t exist, and after suffering from a bad reaction to synthetic hair extensions herself created the plant-based hair extensions to solve this. Eco-friendly, comfortable, and even biodegradable – after use they can just be composted.
This kind of innovative approach is so needed right now. Broadening our focus from cotton, leather and plastics to a wider variety of less ‘water hungry’ plants and polluting processes is a positive and essential shift environmentally. The use of plant fibres is as old as humankind and rediscovering them could add value to farmers’ harvests while lessening their carbon footprint.
So called Biofibres are seen by some as a new ‘bio industrial revolution’ – these new biobased materials not only close the loop to prevent food waste but may form the basis of what we wear in years to come.