Is Piñatex an Eco-Friendly Alternative Leather?
Piñatex, created by Dr. Carmen Hijosa, is a leather alternative that has been growing in popularity in recent years. This alternative is made using the fibers in pineapple leaves. Companies are starting to produce shoes, handbags, clothing, and furniture upholstery that use this alternative leather. Is it more eco-friendly to choose this alternative though?
How Piñatex Is Made
Pineapple farmers in the Philippines gather the pineapple leaves and send them through a decortication process to remove the fibers. The workers use the leftover parts of the leaves as fertilizer or biofuel to ensure that no part of the plant is wasted. They then turn the fibers into a non-woven mesh that is sent to Spain for finishing. The company there uses a “special finish” to give the product a natural leather appearance.
Image Source: Wikimedia Commons
Dr. Hijosa’s company, Ananas Anam, shared the life cycle of the product and a future goal for “biodegradation.” They did not specify how biodegradable Piñatex is and what they add to the product to make it look like leather.
Here is what we know about the two most common substances synthetic leathers use and how they compare to genuine leather.
Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) is in many plastics that we use every day, from toys, packaging, clothing, and piping. It is not biodegradable though. Polyvinyl chloride granulates, which means the product only breaks down into smaller pieces. These small pieces create a hazard for animals that may ingest the material and suffer from blockages in their digestive tracts.
PVC also emits toxins when exposed to heat, which includes the manufacturing process. These toxins have caused kidney and reproductive damage, as well as cancer. The additives also make it difficult to recycle, so most often products made with PVC sit in landfills.
Polyurethane (PU) is a better option than PVC but is still not very eco-friendly. The process for these materials includes several compactions, then a submersion in chemicals linked to cancer and birth defects. Only some of the products made with PU are biodegradable, and that still takes about 500 years to decompose.
Genuine leather comes with its downsides as well. The tanning process uses chemicals that can cause skin problems, respiratory issues, and nervous disorders. When it comes to leather’s ability to break down though, it decomposes in about 50 years.
Ananas Anam states that Dr. Hijosa knew PVC alternatives were not the solution to the use of toxic chemicals in the leather industry. If Piñatex is using substances other than polyvinyl chloride and polyurethane, we need to know what it is. It could be something much more eco-friendly than what is currently being used. It could also be something just as toxic and harmful. We will have to wait for them to disclose what precisely goes into the making of Piñatex until we can decide if it is as good for the environment as the company claims it is.
Image Source: Pixabay