When it comes to food waste, plant waste-based alternatives to commonly used materials are showing particularly promising results – emerging both as a response to debates over animal wellbeing and the need to develop biodegradable substitutes for what we currently use. In the hands of Nathalie Spencer, fibres extracted from discarded pineapple leaves from London markets have been transformed into ‘wool’, which she has worked with spinners and weavers to turn into textiles, while Piñatex, a brand launched by Spanish leather goods expert Carmen Hijosa, uses the same fibres to make a leather-like material. Also produced in the UK, Chips Board is a biodegradable material for product and interior design made of non-food-grade industrial potato waste, while Italian company Orange Fiber partners with juice manufacturers in Sicily to create fabrics out of waste citrus rinds.
Working at the other end of the distribution cycle, Japanese designer Kosuke Araki has sourced vegetable waste from markets, shops and his own kitchen and mixed it with Japanese lacquer – or urushi – which was historically combined with leftovers like rice or tofu to adjust its viscosity before its use in craft. Meanwhile, Berlin-based Julian Lechner and Atticus Durnell, who graduated from the University of Creative Arts, Rochester, in 2018, are two designers using coffee grounds collected from cafés – the former making reusable cups that retain the scent of coffee, the latter producing a range of tableware, tiles, furniture and lighting, which started as a graduate project.
Agricultural production has its own environmental costs, but, unlike the meat industry, there is no suggestion that it should cease, so plant and vegetable waste is a potentially unlimited source of organic material – and an enticing opportunity to replace commonly used plastics and synthetic fibres and develop a truly circular economy. Many of the makers working in this field are already going beyond simply proposing a new way of crafting, and are reshaping processes and supply chains to make these materials more viable.