If you’ve ever bought a pineapple and thrown away the leaves, you might have filled a whole bin bag with the waste of just one fruit. Or you might have tossed them onto the compost, knowing the fibrous waste would take a long time to decompose. But you probably didn’t consider wearing the leaves as a form of pineapple leather.
But in the Philippines, where 2.8 million tonnes of pineapples grow every year, people know that pineapple leaves make pineapple fibres. Carmen Hijosa spent years researching pineapple leaf fibre and came up with Piñatex, a natural alternative to leather.
Read on to discover exactly how pineapple waste in the Philippines is being turned into leather for Europe. It’s creating a sustainable business for local people. And it’s also replacing the environmentally destructive—and cruel—leather industry.
The pineapple harvest
The Philippines is one of the world’s leading pineapple producers, second only to Thailand. And while you may know the fruit for its tropical taste only, locals have long woven pineapple leaves into textiles.
Collecting the pineapple leaves
After the pineapple harvest, farmers separate the leaves.
Removing the fibres from pineapple leaves
Between 2.5 and 3.5% of a pineapple leaf is fibre. At this point, workers decorticate the leaves, removing the fibres using semi-automatic machines.
Drying pineapple leaf fibres
Next, the fibres dry in the sun. The tropical climate in the Philippines is perfect for quick drying. But in the rainy season, they go into drying ovens.
The purification process
After this it’s time to clean the fibres. The purification process removes contaminants and leaves a bundle of soft and downy fibres, ready for the next stage.
Creating a non-woven mesh
At this point, workers mix the fibres with a thermoplastic derived from corn. The fibres go through a mechanical process which binds the two together, resulting in a non-woven mesh called Piñafelt.
The finished product: Pineapple leather
Piñafelt goes to Europe, where specialist workers colour and finish it. And finally, Piñatex is ready for the fashion and upholstery industries.
Here at OPOH, we’re really excited about sustainable textile innovations. Stay tuned for more articles like this.