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Materials

223: apple and pineapple animal-free leather

Problem:

Not only is the slaughter of millions of animals for meat considered very cruel, but also the secondary industry of tanning the hide

Solution:

In recent years, when animal rights are something people are more aware of, animal-free leather innovations are being trialled.


One of these is apple leather. The raw material grows in Southern Tirol over an area of around 4,500 ac (18,400 ha) where 60 million apple trees deliver the healthy fruit into the hands of more than 7,000 fruit farmers every year.

Around 950,000 tons (860,000 tonnes) of apples are harvested a year – 10 % of the European apple harvest. Most of the apples end up in supermarkets, however many are processed into juice or puree, with stalks, fibres and peel left as residue.

This is known as apple pomace. Animals are pleased to have the delicious waste, some of which is also incinerated to produce energy.

A few years ago, Hannes Prath, founder of the company Frumat in the Italian town of Bolzano (Bozen), the industrial area of Florence, had the idea of producing imitation leather from apple waste.

To do this, the fruit waste is dried and ground to a powder, which is applied to a tear-resistant cotton canvas with a biological plastics substitute. The solvent still remaining on it is washed out; the residual elements fuse together at 130°C to make the finished apple leather, which currently makes up 50 % of the material for bags; for stability, the rest is made of biodegradable polyurethane (PU).

One of the companies to take up this product was Nuuwaï (New Way) founded in Isernhagen Hamburg by a vegan called Svenja Detto who had seen saw a post on TV about it. This was not without reason: Svenja’s father Gunnar Detto founded the handbag label ‘diboni’ six years before and was selling more than 1,000 of his own women’s handbag designs a year.

The appleskin bags are made by a family-run concern in India. Customers think that apple leather looks very such as animal leather and more genuine than traditional imitation leather. The lining is made of recycled plastic that has been fished out of the sea.

For this Detto buys up remaining stocks of ECOALF, which they no longer use. In this way they support the “Upcycling the Oceans” project and conserve resources. Because all used materials are free from animal derived ingredients nuuwaï is {PETA-Approved vegan}. The Nuuwaï bags, initially available in black are now produced in light blue, pink, apricot and other colours. (nuuwai.com)

For Dr Carmen Hijos, discarded pineapple leaves are the key. Originally from Spain, Hijos was working for the Design Centre Philippines leather export industry in the 1990s, but was shocked at the environmental impact of mass leather production and chemical tanning.

Inspired by the abundance of natural resources, including the use of plant fibres in traditional weaving such as the delicate Barong Tagalog garments, Hijos sought to create a new, non-woven textile that could be commercially produced, provide positive social and economic impact and maintain a low environmental footprint throughout its life cycle.

She then spent seven years developing the product through a PhD at the Royal College of Art in London, and joint collaborations with Bangor University in Wales, Northampton Leather Technology Center, Leitat Technological Centre in Spain, alongside NonWoven Philippines Inc. in Manila, and Bonditex S.A., a textile finishing company in Spain.

In 2015 she presented Piñatex at the PhD graduate exhibition. To make one square meter of Piñatex takes 460 leaves but there is no shortage of raw material. Global pineapple production topped 28 million tons (25 million tonnes) in 2016, according to Statistica.

Since its commercial launch in 2015, Piñatex faux leather has been used by about 500 manufacturers, including vegan sneakers sold by fashion house Hugo Boss, a jacket by H&M, by Altiir’s for their biker-style jacket, by Somebody People for their barstools, by Apple as a strap for their watch and by Chanel for its luxury gold boater hat.

Lucie Trejtnarová, a postgraduate student at the Faculty of Multimedia Communication, Tomas Bata University in Zlín (UTB), Czech Republic, and materials manufacturer Fillamentum have developed the Organic 3D printed shoe collection. The experimental sandal line integrates 3D printed outsoles from TPU-based Flexfill 98A, Malai, also known as coconut leather, and Piñatex.

Another approach to make leather handbags, pairs of shoes, smartphone hulls clothing and upholstery, but not using animals has been taken by Nawal Allaoui, a student at the Higher School of Textile and Clothing Industries (Esith) in Morocco.

This young woman was working in social entrepreneurship in the coastal zone of Sidi Rahal with the wives of the fishermen who cleaned the fish and took away the spines of sea urchins.

She observed how the skins, considered as waste, usually go to the trash to pile up in bins where they decompose in oily matter. After several tests in her room at the boarding school of Esith, Nawal was able to concoct an innovative recipe for the tanning of fish skins, based on Moroccan organic products, such as henna.

In 2016, Nawal founded SeaSkin, sourcing raw fish skin (sole, whiting and salmon from fish restaurants and a fish fillet plant, before training six women in Sidi Rahal to peel the skin by removing the remaining flesh residues and rinsing the whole. The next day is devoted to vegetable tanning, Nawal bathes the skins by gradually incorporating the preparation made from natural products. Finally, the skin will be ready to go into a dye bath to be customized according to the product.

At the end of the chain, the final touch is to flatten and dry the leather to create a luxury leather goods product. There is no fish smell because the oils, naturally present in the skins, are replaced by natural tanning or protective oils, so the object simply smells of leather. For the marketing of its products, Nawal sells only online.

In England, Lucy Hughes, a graduate of the product design program at the University of Sussex, has also developed a method of using fish waste, scales and skin, to make a bioplastic called MarinaTex, which can biodegrade back into the soil in only six weeks. Over 172,000 tons (156,000 tonnes) of fish waste produced annually by UK processing plants alone could be converted. Hughes was awarded the 2019 James Dyson Innovation Award.

Near Biarritz, on the Franco-Spanish border, Erik de Laurens and Edouard de Dreuzy have developed Scalite, using salmon scales from the local fishing industry and sardine scales from Brittany.

Once cleaned, crushed they are transformed into powder without any addition of chemical product. Made from this flour-like dust, Scalite with a marbled or more homogeneous appearance is resistant to scratches and fire and can be worked like wood hence of great interest to architects and decorators.

Visit us tomorrow for Solution 224: a battery that charges 1,000 times faster

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