One Man’s Waste is Another Man’s…T-shirt?

Rotten banana image for food waste textile fabric article. Reproduced with the kind permission of the Director and the Board of Trustees, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. © Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

I must start a compost bin. I think, as I look down at the rainbow remains of fruit extracted from my juicer. Compost was as far as my imagination went with the mossy matter. I’ve never looked at discarded pineapple leaves and thought they would make a good jacket. But somebody did.

Pineapple leaves are just one of the by-products of the food industry that can be leveraged for their rich cellulose content and converted into textiles. These fibres would provide a more sustainable solution to the current market dominators, cotton and polyester. Among other alternatives being researched or already in use are: orange yarn, milk yarn, and even the by-products from chicken.

When you picture a Sicilian orange grove, the 700, 000 tonnes of annual waste aren’t likely to be your first thought. Two Italian designers envisioned a new future for the remains of this citrus fruit, “We wanted to leverage oranges, which are typical of Sicily, and Italian excellence in textile, developing a disruptive technology,” says entrepreneur, Enrica Arena. They harnessed the orange’s cellulose content to produce Orange Fiber, a silky yarn akin to viscose.

The design duo are optimistic about food waste, “in theory, every vegetable contains cellulose, so we might try to replicate and adjust our process to a number of other foods,” says Arena. Given that cellulose is the most abundant organic compound on earth*, constituting 33 percent of all vegetable matter, it has enormous potential as fibre. It is already being harvested from hemp, corn and wood pulp.

Learn more about Orange Fibre here.

Carmen Hijosa, founder of the London textile company, Ananas Anam, unearthed the potential of pineapples. Globally, 40,000 tonnes of pineapple waste is burnt or left to rot each year. Hijosa: “Pineapple leaves contain one of the finest cellulose fibres in existence, so I thought: Why couldn’t we use these to make a leather alternative?”

Piñatex is derived from byproducts of the pineapple harvest. To make it, leaves are fed through a decorticating machine, separating fibre from biomass. The chlorophyll and plantgum are then removed, leaving a fibre which is felted together and sealed; yielding around one square metre of textile per 16 pineapples. It weighs four times less than leather and costs 30 percent less. Piñatex packs a punch too, having ‘passed all the technical tests needed for footwear, bags and upholstery, which is the most stringent of all,” says Hijosa. We can look forward to seeing the first products around spring next year.

This isn’t the first time food waste has undergone a makeover. It was attempted with milk back in the 1930s, as the founder of QMilk, Anke Domaske, discovered. But the procedure was very chemically intensive, “We decided to reinvent the process with 100 percent natural resources, food waste, and an eco-friendly process,” says Domaske. QMilk works together with the dairy industry to create biodegradable yarn from inedible milk. Originally motivated to find non-toxic garments after her stepfather was lost to cancer, Domaske’s Qmilk reminds us to consider the toxins going into, as well as onto our bodies.

It’s an exciting idea, but this resourceful concept isn’t merely a fashion fad. It comes as a crucial development to support an ever-expanding world. By taking a fresh look at what’s going into the landfill, it’s clear that there’s plenty to go around; and we don’t have to strip the planet to get there.

Learn more about QMilk Fibre here.

See Future of Fashion Article Series to learn more about other exciting innovative biodegradable fabrics.

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