Food waste on a global scale is a massive problem with substantial financial, ethical, and environmental repercussions. The causes range from bumpy roads to overly-picky clients, but we can all help address this global problem no matter the reason.
According to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), 1.3 billion tonnes of food are wasted globally, accounting for one-third of all food produced. Forty-five percent of all fruit grown for human consumption is discarded. And thirty percent of the planet’s agricultural land is used to plant food that will also be wasted.
Animal leather vs. vegan leather alternatives is a contentious topic. Traditional leather has its own set of problems. Still, vegan leather is generally made of plastic and has its challenges.
Vegan leather is unquestionably superior to regular leather made from animals. Still, it is more environmentally friendly depending on the type. PVC, or polyvinyl chloride, is the most frequent material used to make imitation leather. PVC is used in a wide range of products, from chairs to sneakers.
Unfortunately, PVC isn’t the most environmentally friendly material available. It’s a non-biodegradable plastic created from fossil fuels. As a result, when someone disposes of PVC, it simply lies in a landfill for years. So, what should a person do if they wish to own and use sustainable leather?
Fortunately, there is now a slew of new PVC-free faux leather options. Companies have become more inventive with what they build their products out of as demand for more sustainable materials grows. Vegan leather has been around for a long time, and you may already be familiar with it.
Fruit-based leather can reduce the synthetic leather industry’s carbon footprint significantly.
Fruit leather was created to preserve fruit and be consumed as a snack. It’s a method of preserving fruits, which is especially useful in hot countries where the fruit is plentiful but spoils quickly. Fruit leather is best made using overripe fruit, skin, and all.
Fruit leather has attracted a lot as a design material thanks to its creation as an alternative to mammal hides and leather tanning techniques. Traditional leather is considered inhumane to animals and produces 650 million kilos of CO2 during its cleaning process.
The main ingredient for bioleather is fibrous fruits like mangoes, apples, pears, peaches, and plums. In addition, some people use natural colorants like vegetable dye or water-based ink (e.g., hibiscus, beetroot, madder) to make it more appealing to the eye. Spices can also be used to add color and smell. Here are some fruits used as a bioleather.
Pineapple and leather are two terms that don’t appear to go together, yet they work well together. Piñatex is a non-woven cloth with a leather appearance and feel but is not created from animal hides. Instead, it’s made from natural fibers from the pineapple leaf and plastic and resin. It is also made without the use of animal by-products.
The pineapple leaves are brought from the Philippines, processed, and shipped to Spain, where they are given a particular polish.
One square meter of pineapple bioleather requires around 480 pineapple leaves. Philippine farmers gain from an ample supply of leaves because they produce less waste and sell more of their products for industrial consumption and use.
It’s already proven to be a popular faux leather choice. Over 1000 brands worldwide use it, including well-known names like H&M and Hugo Boss.
Apple leather is created from apple skins that have been discarded by the fruit juice and compote industries. In 2016 alone, the juice sector generated over 1.4 million tons of apple peel trash.
What are we going to do with all of these apple peels? When combining these discarded peels with other bio content and recycled materials, durable fabric with a texture similar to other vegan leathers may be created.
A handful of companies have begun to embrace this new, cruelty-free bioleather in their products, using apple skins and a few other substances. For example, Samara’s prominent vegan fashion label utilizes apple leather to manufacture laptop sleeves and tote bags.
Bananatex and Green Banana Paper both use banana fiber to make environmentally friendly goods. You can use this one-of-a-kind material to create various products, from banana bioleather bags to personalized business cards.
Another fruit with an excess of waste? Mangos. Mangos are a delicate tropical fruit that must be hand-harvested and carried with caution since they can soften quickly.
Fruitleather Rotterdam, a Dutch firm, has figured out how to make a plausible bioleather out of mangoes. While they’re at it, they’re also lowering food waste.
Fruitleather receives approximately 1,500 mangoes every week from a Dutch importer. The bioleather is manufactured then marketed to designers all around the world, where it is used to build everything from shoes to purses.
Planning on making your own mango bioleather? Here’s a video on how to make one.
You can check the full recipe here.
MycoWorks, a biomaterials business based in San Francisco, has manufactured bioleather from mycelium, the tubular filaments found on mushrooms. The product is more ethical and has a smaller environmental impact than the new material.
To make it indistinguishable from genuine leather, MycoWorks collaborates with traditional leather crafters “with competence in crafting completed leathers.”
The fungi can be used to make leather replacements by upcycling low-cost agricultural and forestry by-products like sawdust. These are used to feed mycelium’s growth, a tangled mass of elongated fungal strands that grows into a sheet and could be harvested in a few weeks; this is thanks to MycoWorks’ patented technology, called Fine Mycelium.
According to the company, the technology replicates the appearance and feel of leather while excelling in strength and longevity.
BioCouture, a textile research project, has created a new method of producing garment fibers by releasing microorganisms into a solution of sugar, bacteria, and green tea.
Sugar provides a food source for bacteria, which releases pure cellulose threads. These threads prefer to cling together and make a “skin,” which takes approximately three weeks to complete and generates a substance that is about 1.5 cm thick.
The textile is simple to dye and print on, and it needs just a fraction of the dye that other fibers use. Furthermore, it is easily recyclable and may be adequately dissolved once no longer needed. The fabric’s only flaw is that it is absorbent. As a result, they might get very wet if exposed to rain.
Desserto is another well-known brand in the rapidly expanding field of bioleather. The Mexican company is credited with inventing a method of producing environmentally friendly leather from prickly pear cactus. They were even the recipients of a recent prize granted jointly by the University of Oxford and PETA.
Desserto leather is also a winner in terms of sustainability. It uses less carbon-intensive techniques and produces less waste during the manufacturing process than real leather.
Desserto cactus leather has many environmental benefits, ranging from soil enrichment and biodiversity enhancement to water and energy conservation. Their afforestation initiative (growing prickly pear cactus) also helps reverse land-use change, one of the major causes of CO2 emissions and soil degradation.
No chemical fertilizers or pesticides are used, and cacti are allowed to grow and regenerate so that material can be gathered continuously from the same plant. The collected plant matter is also dried in a solarium rather than in energy-guzzling dryers, lowering their carbon footprint dramatically.
Bioleather is a cutting-edge new arena in the imitation leather industry, with many potentials to get excited about. If there’s a disadvantage, it’s how difficult it is to get these concepts off the ground.
Even with all of these ifs, ands, and buts, plant-based leather is promised to contribute to a more sustainable, climate-friendly, and cruelty-free fashion business. It only shows what can be accomplished when creativity is combined with a desire to help the environment.