There have been a number of innovative plant-based leather alternatives coming to the market in the past few years — including some leather-like materials made out of food waste!
This article will dive into a couple of exciting plant-based leather materials made from fruit waste, and will also discuss the problems with most vegan leathers on the market today.
This post was proudly made in partnership with Allégorie. The research for this post was done independently and all opinions are my own.
The Problem With Vegan Leathers
While vegan leather may sometimes be promoted as a sustainable alternative to animal leather products, the reality is more complicated. That is because today, the majority of vegan leather is made out of non-biodegradable, synthetic materials sourced from fossil fuels. More specifically, most vegan leather is actually polyurethane (PU) or polyvinyl chloride (PVC).
Not only do these materials increase demand for petroleum, but PVC contains dangerous chemical additives that can pose direct health risks as well.
The good news is that there are far better vegan leather alternatives that don’t have to come at the cost of your health or the planet.
The Agricultural Waste Problem
Before we dive into some of these more sustainable vegan leather alternatives, let’s talk about another huge problem: food waste.
About one third of all food produced in the world is wasted — that’s about 1.3 billion tonnes wasted every single year. Estimates put that number even higher in the United States The NRDC found that up to 40% of food in the U.S. is wasted.
Considering that agriculture is responsible for 11% of total global greenhouse gas emissions and that many regions of the world use up to 70% of their freshwater for agriculture, that’s a massive problem.
One Solution? Creating Vegan Leathers With Food Waste!
Of course, there are many solutions to addressing our food waste crisis and we need ways to ensure that edible food gets in the hands of those who need it most.
That said, there are also forms of agricultural and food waste that aren’t edible, such as apple peels or pineapple leaves. These forms of waste can still be used though when they are transformed into useful products — like vegan leathers!
Note that the guide may contain partners and affiliates. As always, we only feature brands that meet strict criteria for sustainability we love, that we think you’ll love too!
Apple leather is made from discarded apple skins leftover by the fruit juice and compote industry. In fact, the juice industry was responsible for about 1.4 million tons of apple peel waste in 2016 alone. (This estimate is based on juice consumption and usage ratio in juice factories.)
What do we do with all of these leftover apple peels? Turns out that these discarded peels — when combined with other bio content, recycled materials, and water-based PU* — can create a durable material with a texture similar to other vegan leathers.
While it may be difficult to imagine what apple peels might look like on a bag, the result is actually quite stunning! Take a look at Allégorie’s apple leather bags if you don’t believe me!
Another fruit with a waste problem? Mangos. This tropical fruit is very sensitive — it has to be hand-harvested and must be transported carefully, as mangos can get soft quite quickly. The actual percentage of mangos wasted varies by region, but it’s reported that over 60% of mangos in Kenya go to waste before they even hit the grocery store. And in Senegal, experts estimate that about 50-70% of mangoes get wasted.
Once mangos make it into the grocery store, they must make it through another test: getting into a shopper’s grocery cart! While these mangos do face better odds, about 12% of fruit in the produce aisle does not get sold. The USDA found in 2005-2006 that 8-22% of mangos do not get sold by grocery stores.
Allégorie makes use of these would-be wasted mangos, though, to create their chic mango bags! The brand partners with supermarkets to collect discarded mangos, which are then blended and combined with a water-based PU* to create a faux leather material.
Top Pick: Brown Mango Bi-Fold Cardholder
*Allégorie’s water-based PU technology uses water instead of organic solvents and does not contain harmful chemicals such as DMF and DOP. There is no pollution during the production process, zero emissions of hazardous chemicals, and other procedures in place to ensure environmental protection.
While using some non-renewably sourced materials is not ideal, all of the current plant-based vegan leathers on the market today are mixed with some percentage of synthetic materials for durability and strength. We hope to see further innovations and improvements in this space that will make it possible to create 100% bio-based accessories soon! But in the meantime, this is an amazing improvement!
Beyond using innovative vegan leather alternatives like the two materials discussed above, Allégorie follows a number of other conscious practices in their business. Here are a few highlights about the eco-friendly vegan bag brand:
- Allégorie is women-owned and managed
- The brand works with material suppliers that follow high environmental standards, such as zero toxic chemical emissions, green energy use, and water-efficient practices (like water recycling).
- The company also follows strict internal due diligence protocols for both quality and ethics to ensure fair compensation, benefits, good working conditions, and reasonable working hours.
- The linings of the bags are made from recycled fibers and plant-based polyester made from non-edible plants and agricultural waste such as sugarcane.
- The final production of Allégorie’s bags takes place in New York City, so the brand’s team can visit and talk to the workers in this facility personally. Workers are paid fairly — i.e. they earn above the minimum wage with the additional compensation based on their expertise and experience
- Every piece in Allégorie’s collection is durable and created with timeless designs, ensuring longevity
P.S. If you find something you love on Allégorie’s site, you can use code CONSCIOUS10 for 10% off your purchase!