While working in the Philippines during the 1990s, Spanish leathergoods expert Dr. Carmen Hijosa grew horrified at the environmental impact of leather production. The problem for her was that she didn’t approve of petroleum-based alternatives either.
In search of a better alternative, Hijosa became inspired by traditional Filipino garments that were made from pineapple leaves, which are leftover from pineapples after harvest. An estimated 40,000 tons of pineapple leaves are left over every year, and they are usually burned or left to rot.
With an abundance of wasted pineapple leaves available, Hijosa set out to produce a form of leather she would later call Piñatex. Producing leather from old pineapple leaves starts with washing and drying them in the sun. Afterward, the leaves undergo a purification process that results in a fluffy fiber. This fluff is then blended with corn-based polylactic acid (PLA) and turned into a non-woven mesh called “Piñafelt,” which serves as the base for Piñatex products.
This mesh is then sent to Spain or Italy for some finishing, followed by some coloring and coating to give the eco-leather strength and water resistance. According to Dezeen, a single square meter of Piñatex requires around 480 leaves (from 16 pineapples plants).
So, what is the environmental impact of Piñatex? Like we mentioned earlier, there are around 40,000 tons of leaves that are leftover from the global pineapple industry. Instead of these being burnt or left to rot and produce methane emissions, the leaves are repurposed into something that lessens the demand for animal-based leather. On top of that, the biomass left over after the purification process can be composted to return nutrients to the soil.
Still, Piñatex isn’t perfect. The polylactic acid used to produce the alternative leather means it is not very biodegradable, and even if it does degrade, it can leave a toxic residue.
Looking towards the future, Piñatex’s parent company Ananas-Anam says two of its future goals are “controlled degradation” and recycling by shredding fiber, so this is a situation that the company is striving to improve.
Piñatex has already been adopted by 1,000 shoe companies, fashion labels, and hotel chains around the world, and that number is only expected to grow. Have you come across Piñatex yet in your life?