Superstar Lady Gaga stirred a controversy when she wore a dress made from meat slices at the MTV awards, but would she be willing to wear clothing made from food waste? Well, that opportunity has arrived.
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Food waste represents the single largest type of waste entering landfills in the U.S. according to numbers from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. An enormous amount of non-edible byproducts creates a twofold strain—the costs associated with waste disposal and environmental costs of food waste in landfills. Environmental consequences include increased greenhouse gas emissions, chiefly from the methane and carbon dioxide triggered by decomposition.
The amount of food waste is predicted to increase parallel to the projected rise in world population, anticipated to reach 9.6 billion by 2050. The challenge for now and for the future is to develop methods to curb or at least control the waste. Innovative thinkers have put to the task and are focusing on technologies to transform food waste into income, exciting the interest of imaginative entrepreneurs as well as established industry. The concept of using food waste to make textiles is being developed by several new and creative enterprises, for uses that include clothing, upholstery fabric, “leather,” and “silk.”
Orange Fiber is the brainchild of two Sicilian graduate students from the Polytechnic of Milan—Adriana Santanocito and Enrica Arena. Sicily has a massive production of citrus and consequently generates considerable amounts of citrus waste, up to 700 tons per year. Orange fiber is offering a solution to reduce the burden of this waste by using it to make textiles.
The pair of students patented a method to create sustainable fabrics from citrus juice by-products. With financial backing from two noted Italian entrepreneurs, Orange Fiber became an innovative startup in February 2014.
Their raw material is citrus pulp (in Italian called “pastazzo”), which is essentially cellulose. The inedible pulp that would otherwise would be discarded is spun into a type of yarn, followed by a finishing process that uses a “nano-enriched” citrus essential oil. The result is a silk-like cellulose yarn designed to be blended with other fabrics. The 100-percent citrus textile is lightweight, and can be opaque or shiny according to production needs.
Orange Fiber is headed into commercial success thanks to the renowned Italian design house Salvatore Ferragamo. The haute couture operation has produced a daily wear collection of spring/summer clothing made with Orange Fiber fabrics.
Another Italian invention is called Vegea, a biomaterial having a registered trademark of Vegea company. Vegea was founded in 2016, in Milan, by architect Gianpiero Tessitore, and Industrial chemist Francesco Merlino.
Their product, a leather-like material, is derived from grape marc. Marc solid contains the remains of grapes after pressing—skin, pulp, seeds, and stems of the fruit. The inventors of Vegea say that the marc has a high content of multifunctional components that lend themselves to modification for creating fabric. And, they state that Vegea is animal-free, using no animal derived by-product in its production process.
The company is in the process of developing other bio-materials from vegetal waste to deliver alternatives to fossil non-renewable sources, with potential application for the furniture, packaging, automotive, and transportation industries
At the Mestic company in Eindoven, Netherlands, the saying is “manure matters.” Mestic has patented a process to directly convert animal manure into new materials such as biodegradable textiles, plastic, and paper. This innovation was triggered in 2015, when the agricultural sector of the Noord-Brabant area in the country solicited for solutions to a growing high phosphate and nitrogen problem from cow waste. The Dutch livestock industry was exceeding its agreed-upon phosphate ceiling, with a total of 172.9 million kilos of phosphate produced from livestock manure in 2015.