The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization reports that an estimated one-third of all the food produced in the world is going to waste. But the textile industry—which accounts for 6.7 percent of all global greenhouse gas emissions, according to a study by Quantis International—is finding a role to play in food waste reduction efforts.
Some companies like Circular Systems are producing natural fibers made from organic waste to reduce the company’s impact on the environment. “Zero impact is just a milestone en route to beneficial impact, which is really what we need to be achieving as a species in our habitat,” says Isaac Nichelson, Circular Systems co-founder and Chief Executive Officer. And Nichelson’s company is not alone.
Food Tank is highlighting 12 innovative companies that are turning food waste and agricultural byproducts into eco-friendly, wearable products. These companies are aiming to fight food waste, while also bringing forward products that they hope will create more sustainable food and fashion industries.
1. Agraloop (Circular Systems)
One of Circular Systems‘ three breakthrough waste-to-fiber platforms, Agraloop transforms food waste into BioFibre™, a high quality natural material used across the fashion industry. This fiber is made from a processing technique that breaks down organic waste products including pineapple, banana, flax, and hemp seeds. Debuting at the 2019 Global Change Awards and featured in Vogue, Agraloop reports that this technology can help generate up to 250 million tons of fiber each year and fulfill more than five times the current global fiber demand.
Allegorie is a women-owned company producing high quality, cruelty-free, and PVC-free accessories out of discarded fruits. The company collects produce including mangos, apples, and cacti from farms and grocery stores to convert them into bags, backpacks, wallets, and more. By using a combination of plant-based polymer materials and recycled polyester, they report using 84 percent less energy than traditional production methods.
Toronto-based startup, ALT TEX, is creating a sustainable polyester alternative from food waste. Founded by entrepreneur Myra Arshad and her best friend and biochemist Avneet Ghotra, the company recently raised US$1.5 million which will go directly toward commercializing the polyester-like fabric. As part of the NEXT36 Entrepreneurship Program, the startup aims to disrupt the polyester industry by creating a sustainable fabric made from food waste that is also free of microplastics.
4. Ananas Anam
A Certified B Corporation, Ananas Anam is the developer of Piñatex, a plant-based leather made from pineapple leaf fiber waste. More than 100 brands around the world have used the company’s textile, which can be mixed with other natural materials. The company reports that the conversion of leaves – which otherwise would have gone to waste – into Piñatex has prevented the release of 264 tons of carbon dioxide. Piñatex is the recipient of the Arts Foundation Material Innovation Award in 2016. Publications including the Huffington Post, WIRED, ELLE, Vogue, have also featured the company’s products.
Made from fibers from the naturally grown Abacá banana plant in the Philippines, Bananatex is a 100 percent biodegradable and waterproof fabric developed by Swiss bag brand and material innovators QWSTION. Requiring no additional inputs such as pesticides or fertilizers, the banana plant used for Bananatex, is also used to help reforestation efforts in the Philippines. This circular replacement for synthetic fabrics won the Green Product Award 2019, the Design Prize Switzerland Award 2019/20, and the German Sustainability Award Design 2021.
6. Bolt Threads
Bolt Threads is a material solutions company behind Mylo, a faux leather made from mycelium, the underground network of fungi. Production of the mycelium used to create Mylo requires mulch, air and water and according to the company, the mycelium take just two weeks to grow. Brands including adidas, lululemon, and Stella McCartney have incorporated Mylo into their product lines.
Founded in 2019 by Adrian Lopez Velarde and Marte Cazarez, Mexico-based Desserto produces a leather alternative made from the nopal cactus, also known as prickly pear. Plastic-free, cruelty-free, and requiring little water to produce, this plant-based leather is used across the automobile, fashion, and furniture industries. Desserto recently partnered with companies including Adidas, Mercedes Benz, and BMW. They have received recognition and awards from organizations including LVMH, Good Design Australia, Global Fashion Agenda, Architectural Digest, and PETA.
8. Kombucha Couture
Designed by cheesemaker Sacha Laurin, Kombucha Couture is a line of sustainable jewelry and clothing produced by the symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast (SCOBY) that is also used to make kombucha. Working to create a durable, versatile fabric that can serve as a replacement for leather, canvas, or silk, Laurin experiments with different dried cultures to create wearable pieces. Featured at Sacramento Fashion Week in 2014 and in Huffington Post, Kombucha Couture hopes to help define sustainable fashion.
9. Orange Fiber
Using citrus juice by-products, Italian company Orange Fiber, strives to produce high-quality sustainable fabrics for clothing companies around the world. To produce their fabric, they blend a silk-like cellulose yarn that can be used on its own or blended with other yarns and materials.Orange Fiber reports that they have produced more than 15,000 meters of fabric while recycling more than 120 tons of citrus by-products. Orange Fiber is the recipient of several awards including the UNECE Ideas For Change Award, the MF Supply Chain Awards 2020, the Elle Impact2 For Women Award.
Developed by microbiologist and fashion designer Anke Domaske, QMilk is a 100 percent renewable and biodegradable textile fiber made from cow’s milk. Utilizing the 2 million tons of milk that go to waste in Germany each year, QMilk works to offer a sustainable and innovative solution to food waste. Aiming to be fully zero-waste, the company is the recipient of awards including the Greentech Award 2015 and the “Bio-based Material of the Year” Innovation Award in 2014.
11. S. Café
Invented in 2008 by Taiwanese functional fabrics company, Singtex, S.Café is a fabric made from used coffee grounds. S.Café sources grounds from coffee shops across Taiwan and combines them with other recycled materials to produce a deodorizing and fast-drying yarn. North Face, Puma, and Timberland are among the apparel brands that use the brand’s materials. In recent years S.Café received the Taiwan Excellence Award in 2016 and 2017, and the ISPO TEXTRENDS Award in 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2018/19.
Founded in 2016 in Milan, Vegea is a technology company that produces a plant-based leather-like product made from wine waste. Derived from grape marc—the skins, stalks and seeds that usually go to waste during wine production—Vegea’s plant-based leather is a 100 percent recyclable and renewable textile. Companies can use the leather for bags and other accessories, shoes, and clothing. Vegea is the recipient of awards and recognition including the 2015 Start&Cup Award, the 2017 Innovation Made in Italy award from Unicredit, and the 2017 Global Change Award from the H&M Foundation.
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