A new startup company spun out of the University of Toronto wants to make clothing from food waste. If they are successful, you may someday buy a shirt or a pair of gym shorts made from banana peels, rotten tomatoes, coffee grounds, or moldy bread.
A problem faced by the clothing industry is that most textiles are blended with synthetic and non-renewable fiber polyester, which makes them unrecyclable. An alternative that has come on the scene in recent years is polylactic acid (or PLA), which is a decomposable bioplastic that is currently used for food packaging, medical implants, and 3D printing. It is likely that a sustainable future for the fashion industry will depend on the ability to make use of biodegradable and carbon-neutral materials.
PLA is typically made from cornstalk, but the startup – called ALT TEX – does not want to rely on a crop already used for feedstock, human consumption, and alternative fuel. Furthermore, there is no need to plant more corn when there is an abundant supply of unused post-industrial food waste from growers, producers, and retailers that contains the same biological building blocks for producing PLA.
ALT TEX has been conducting experiments using discarded apples to create a PLA-based fabric that is strong, durable, decomposable, and cost effective. They are working with farmers and food suppliers to access their waste. If their efforts are successful, it would be possible to divert significant amounts of organic waste that currently emits the powerful greenhouse gas methane and instead enable the fashion industry to be more sustainable.
Photo, posted August 30, 2019, courtesy of Ruth Hartnup via Flickr.