How Sustainable Are Piñatex Fabrics? A Life-Cycle Analysis

How Sustainable Are Piñatex Fabrics? A Life-Cycle Analysis

By
Quynh Nguyen

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Piñatex is a leather alternative made with the strong fibers from the pineapple leaves, which are usually thrown away after fruit harvest. Unlike animal leather production, turning this plant-based waste into Piñatex fabrics doesn’t involve toxic chemicals. Better yet, it is a closed-loop process. Still, we had to ask: How sustainable are Piñatex fabrics?

Piñatex is generally a sustainable fabric. The main raw material comes from pineapple leaves, a by-product of the existing fruit harvest, reducing agricultural waste instead of straining natural resources. Also, its production is closed-loop, mainly mechanical, and doesn’t involve toxic chemicals.

In this article, we’ll walk you through the life-cycle of Piñatex fabrics used for clothes, accessories and household items. Then, we evaluate its sustainability, potential, and shortfalls. And in the end, we’ll show you tips for buying sustainable products made with Piñatex fabrics.

Here’s How We Assessed the Sustainability of Piñatex Fabrics

Piñatex is generally considered a sustainable textile material alternative to animal leather. Piñatex fabrics are made in a closed-loop mechanical process, using one part corn-based polylactic acid (PLA) and four parts pineapple fibers refined from the plant’s leaf waste. And unlike animal leather, the process of manufacturing Piñatex doesn’t use toxic chemicals. 

Sustainable: The ability to be maintained at a certain rate or level | Avoidance of the depletion of natural resources in order to maintain an ecological balance”

Oxford Dictionary

To understand the sustainability of Piñatex fabrics, we must assess their life-cycle and each stage’s sustainability. This life-cycle assessment (LCA) is a method to evaluate the environmental impacts of products and materials. Over the years, companies have strategically used LCA to research and create more sustainable products. So, let’s have a look at the LCA of Piñatex fabrics!

In this article, we’ll use the cradle-to-grave perspective of the LCA, examining the five stages of the life-cycle of clothing items and accessories made with Piñatex fabrics. When applicable, we also look at cradle-to-gate assessments

The life-cycle stages of Piñatex fabricsEach stage’s sustainability
Sourcing of Piñatex fabricsThe raw materials for Piñatex are pineapple fibers and PLA (corn-based polylactic acid). Pineapple fibers account for 80% of the content and come from the plant’s leaves, which are discarded after fruit harvest. Sourcing pineapple leaves for Piñatex is sustainable. It requires no extra environmental resources while reducing the need to clear the leaves by burning, which releases greenhouse gases. 
Manufacturing of Piñatex fabricsManufacturing Piñatex fabrics is generally sustainable. Piñatex fabric production is a closed-loop mechanical process. Also, unlike animal leather, Piñatex production doesn’t involve harmful synthetic chemicals. 
Transporting of Piñatex fabricsTransporting can be a carbon-intensive stage in the life-cycle of items made with Piñatex fabrics due to the distances covered and emissions associated with transporting vehicles. Firstly, Piñatex fabrics typically travel from pineapple fields around the Philippines to fiber factories locally, where raw materials are turned into Piñatex’s substrate. The substrate is then shipped to Europe for finishing before going to shops and consumers’ houses. Finally, used items end up in recycling centers or landfills. 
Usage of Piñatex fabricsThe usage of Piñatex is generally not quite as sustainable as animal leather, mainly because of its low tensile strength. However, Piñatex clothing items and accessories can be relatively durable if they don’t have to withstand high forces. In comparison with some other leather alternatives, Piñatex has moderate durability. 
End-of-life of Piñatex fabricsThe end-of-life stage for Piñatex is generally not very sustainable because this material is not fully biodegradable in a landfill environment. 

Overall, we can say Piñatex is a sustainable material. However, the actual environmental impact of a particular product, like a pair of shoes or a handbag, depends on more specific factors, including the manufacturing process, transportation distance, and vehicles used during transport. 

Let’s dive deeper into each life-cycle stage and find out how you can buy Piñatex fabrics more sustainably. 

How Sustainable Is the Sourcing of Raw Materials for Piñatex Fabrics

The raw materials for Piñatex are pineapple fibers and PLA (corn-based polylactic acid). Pineapple fibers account for 80% of the content and come from the plant’s leaves, which are discarded after fruit harvest. Sourcing pineapple leaves for Piñatex is sustainable. It requires no extra environmental resources while reducing the need to clear the leaves by burning, which would release greenhouse gases. 

What Raw Materials Are Used for Piñatex Fabrics

The main materials used for Piñatex fabrics are pineapple fibers and PLA. Specifically, 

How Do the Raw Materials Sourced for Piñatex Fabrics Impact the Environment

The raw materials used in Piñatex come from pineapple and corn plants, both of which are renewable resources. Utilizing pineapple leaves to make Piñatex reduces agricultural waste while requiring no extra environmental resources. 

However, as pineapple cultivation is plagued with toxic chemical pesticides and fertilizers, it would be more sustainable to source pineapple leaves from organic farming systems. 

Sourcing Pineapple Leaves For Piñatex Fabrics Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions 

The leaves are the agricultural waste of the pineapple fruit industry. And there are a lot of leaves. 

Almost three times as much pineapple leaf waste is generated for each kilogram of the pineapple fruit produced.

These leaves are often burned or left to rot, releasing undesirable greenhouse gases and other pollutants. Using pineapple leaves to make Piñatex instead means avoiding these releases. Specifically, each linear meter (40 inches) of Piñatex prevents the equivalent of 12kg CO2 from being emitted. 

Sourcing Pineapple Leaves For Piñatex Fabrics Requires No Extra Environmental Resources 

Because pineapple leaves are a by-product of an existing industry, they require no extra environmental resources (like water or land). Utilizing this material lowers the overall environmental impacts of Piñatex significantly. 

It is important to mention that growing of pineapple trees does have environmental burdens. The pineapple fruit industry depends heavily on agrochemicals. The use of toxic synthetic pesticides and fertilizers and the monoculture practice in this fruit crop causes air and waterway pollution and deteriorates soil health. 

Thus, sourcing pineapple leaves from organic farming systems would be more sustainable. 

Where Are the Raw Materials for Piñatex Fabrics Usually Sourced From

The pineapple leaves for Piñatex fabrics come from the Philippines. Ananas Anam – the company behind Piñatex – works with farming communities in the Philippines to source this by-product of the pineapple fruit industry for their plant-based leather. 

Because pineapple leaves would normally be considered agricultural waste, using them to make fabrics provides farmers with an extra income. Also, farmers can use the biomass, which is left after the long fibers have been separated from the leaves for Piñatex production, as fertilizer for their pineapple fields.

However, we must note that poverty is dire for rural farming communities in the Philippines. Extra income from supposed agricultural waste would help many farmers who earn a very low living wage.

How Sustainable Is the Manufacturing of Piñatex Fabrics

Manufacturing Piñatex fabrics is generally sustainable. Piñatex fabric production is a closed-loop mechanical process. Also, unlike animal leather, Piñatex production doesn’t involve harmful synthetic chemicals. 

How Sustainably Is Piñatex Fabrics Generally Manufactured

Here are the standard steps in manufacturing Piñatex fabrics

  1. Collecting pineapple leaves after harvesting the fruit. 
  2. Refining the leaves using a decorticating machine. The results of this decortication process are:
    • Long fibers with good strength and flexibility: these are used for making Piñatex, and 
    • Biomass contains the rest of the organic material of the leaves. This biomass can be used as a nutrient-rich fertilizer for pineapple fields. 
  3. Drying pineapple fibers: This step is often done under the sun (sun-dried). Sometimes, during the rainy season, drying ovens might be used. 
  4. Purifying fibers to remove any impurities. The result of this purification process is a fluff-like material. 
  5. Blending the fluff-like fibrous material with a corn-based polylactic acid (PLA). The result of this step is a non-woven mesh (Piñafelt). This is the substrate (or base) of Piñatex fabrics. 
  6. Finishing the non-woven mesh to turn it into Piñatex. This includes:
    • Dyeing the mesh using pigments certified by Global Organic Textile StandardGOTS 
    • Coating the mesh using REACH-compliant resin top coating for a metallic sheen, water-resistance, durability, and strength.
Manufacturing Pineapple Fibers for Piñatex Fabrics Is Done Mechanically 

Some plant-based textile materials, such as viscose or cupro, are manufactured using chemical processes, which greatly reduces the sustainability of fabrics that come from renewable resources. It is not the case for Piñatex. 

Fiber production for Piñatex is a series of mechanical processes, from decorating to purifying to blending. Energy resources are needed to run various machines in fiber production. 

Manufacturing Piñatex Fabrics Doesn’t Involve Toxic Chemicals 

Unlike animal leather, this plant-based leather alternative is made without toxic chemicals. 

Closed-Loop Process Increases the Sustainability of Piñatex Fabrics

Piñatex production is closed-loop. It starts from waste yet yields no waste. The pineapple leaves undergo a series of mechanical processes, resulting in the long fibers for Piñatex and residual leaf biomass to be used as natural fertilizer/biofuel.

Where Are Piñatex Fabrics Usually Manufactured

Piñatex fabrics are manufactured in the Philippines and Europe. Specifically: 

  • The material is transformed into fibers locally in the Philippines, where the pineapple leaves are sourced. 
  • The non-woven mesh form (of the fibers) is later finished in Spain or Italy. 

Fiber production requires a series of machines for decorticating, purifying, blending, and refining. Energy for running these machines mostly comes from fossil fuels, resulting in elevated greenhouse gas emissions. 

In the Philippines, where fiber production happens, the share of renewable energy in primary energy is 10.9%, which is relatively low. China, home to many textile materials, has a 14.95% renewable energy share. 

Ananas Anam has plans to eventually build a complete supply chain in Spain, to operate in parallel with their Philippines production line. This European production line is likely to be less dependent on fossil fuels as the renewable energy share in Spain is 22.34%more than double the ratio of the Philippines

How Sustainable Is the Transportation of Piñatex Fabrics

Transporting can be a carbon-intensive stage in the life-cycle of items made with Piñatex fabrics due to the distances covered and emissions associated with transporting vehicles. 

Firstly, Piñatex fabrics typically travel from pineapple fields around the Philippines to fiber factories locally, where raw materials are turned into Piñatex’s substrate. The substrate is then shipped to Europe for finishing before going to shops and consumers’ houses. Finally, used items end up in recycling centers or landfills. 

In the life-cycle of Piñatex clothing items, transportation typically occurs as below: 

  • From pineapple fields where pineapple leaves are collected after the fruit harvest to fiber factories locally
  • From the fiber manufacturing location to the clothing manufacturing location in Spain or Italy
  • From the clothing manufacturing location to sorting centers/physical shops 
  • From sorting centers/physical shops to the consumer’s house 
  • From the consumer’s house to the centers for recycling/ disposing of
The Carbon Footprint of Transporting Piñatex Fabrics Depends Largely on the Vehicle of Transportation 

During its life-cycle, a piece of Piñatex clothing can be transported using various types of vehicles, including: 

  • Large container ships 
  • Planes 
  • Freight trains 
  • Long-distance trucks 
  • Short-distance delivering vans 

And these various types of transportation vehicles have different carbon footprint impacts: 

For example, as a consumer, you can choose not to pick the fast delivery option when ordering Piñatex clothing items and accessories to reduce the carbon footprint of your order. 

How Sustainable Is the Usage of Piñatex Fabrics

The usage of Piñatex is generally not quite as sustainable as animal leather, mainly because of its low tensile strength. However, Piñatex clothing items and accessories can be relatively durable if they don’t have to withstand high forces. In comparison with some other leather alternatives, Piñatex has moderate durability. 

Piñatex tends not to be as strong as animal leather. According to a review comparing cow-hide leather with leather alternatives, Piñatex has a low tensile strength, an equivalent of

  • 85% of commercial PU leather
  • 32% of AppleskinTM leather
  • Only 11% of cow-hide leather for the upper part of a shoe 

This low tensile strength indicates that Piñatex will not be as durable as cow-hide leather and a few other leather alternatives for clothing items that bear high forces (such as shoes). 

Long-lasting clothing items are generally more sustainable because you don’t need to replace them too frequently (thus, no need for more resources to make the new one). 

According to the same study, Piñatex has high flex resistance, comparable to animal leather used for shoes. Thus, Piñatex can be partially durable when high forces are irrelevant. 

How Sustainable Is the End-of-Life of Piñatex Fabrics

The end-of-life stage for Piñatex is generally not very sustainable because this material is not fully biodegradable in a landfill environment. 

According to the manufacturer Ananas Anam, Piñatex is not 100% biodegradable. It is because this fabric contains PLA – a bioplastic made with corn. 

The base material of Piñatex (made from 80% pineapple leaf fiber, 20% PLA) is biodegradable under controlled industry conditions. Specifically, in an industrial composting facility, PLA can be broken down into water, carbon dioxide, and biomass within a few months. However, it will not degrade naturally in a landfill environment. 

How Circular Are Products Made of Piñatex Fabrics

In the textile industry, a circular economy is designed to keep products and materials in use for as long as possible, especially through reusing and recycling. It also covers regenerating natural systems that support the industry and reducing polluted waste released into such systems.

“The circular economy is a systems solution framework that tackles global challenges like climate change, biodiversity loss, waste, and pollution.”

Ellen MacArthur Foundation

As a whole, the textile industry is almost linear: 97% of the input is new resource.

There have been innovations moving towards circulation in the textile industry based on the “Closed-Loop Supply Chain.” This is a social system in which products and their components are designed, manufactured, used, and managed to circulate for as long as possible. 

Ananas Anam, the maker of Piñatext, is one example of companies falling into this system. The production of Piñatext is closed-loop. Also, the company collaborated with ACBC to produce a circular shoe

How Can You Buy Piñatex Fabrics More Sustainably

 Piñatex fabrics have the following environmental and original certifications: 

  • B Corp Certification: The label B Corp is a certification reserved for for-profit companies. Certified holders are assessed on their social and environmental impacts. 
  • Cradle2Cradle certification: Cradle2Cradle provides a standardized approach to material circularity. It assesses whether products have been suitably designed and made with the circular economy in mind covering five critical categories: material health, material reuse, renewable energy and carbon management, water stewardship, and social fairness.
  • Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS): A globally-recognized certification system that ensures a certain threshold of organic content has been met. It covers manufacturing, packaging, labeling, transportation, and distribution (but not what happens in the fields where crops are grown). 

Piñatex is certified as a cruelty-free label by PETA and as vegan by the Vegan Society

When a company uses Piñatex to make shoes or purses, you also want to check if they have sustainability certifications such as B Corp Certification or Cradle2Cradle certification. If the products contain other fabrics, it is worth checking the other fabrics’ credentials. Some relevant environmental and original certificates are: 

  • Recycled Claim Standard (RCS): The Textile Exchange RCS was originally developed as an international, voluntary standard that sets requirements for third-party certification of Recycled input and chain of custody. 
  • The Global Recycled Standard (GRS): The Global Recycled Standard (GRS) is an international, voluntary, full product standard that sets requirements for third-party certification of Recycled Content, chain of custody, social and environmental practices, and chemical restrictions. It can be used for any product with more than 20% recycled material.
  • USDA ORGANIC: This certificate is applied to growing the crop (raw material), ensuring natural agricultural products are produced that can be certified as “organic.” 
  • USDA Certified Biobased Product: The USDA BioPreferred® Certification is a voluntary certification offered by the United States Department of Agriculture. The certificate identifies products made from plants or other renewable materials.
  • STeP by OEKO-TEX®: STeP by OEKO-TEX® is an independent certification system for brands, retailers, and manufacturers from the textile and leather industry. It communicates organizational environmental measures, including reducing carbon footprint and water usage.
  • OEKO-TEX® STANDARD 100: A label for textiles tested for harmful substances. 

Where to Buy Sustainable Piñatex Fabrics 

We have established throughout the life-cycle assessment that Piñatex fabrics are generally sustainable. Yet, we compile for you a list of some of the most sustainable brands selling Piñatex fabrics (in alphabetic order)

Why Is It Important to Buy Products Made of More Sustainable Fabrics

It is important to buy products made of more sustainable fabrics because a sustainable textile industry has a lower carbon footprint, helps save natural resources, and is better for forests, animals, and humans. 

Buying Sustainable Fabrics Reduces Your Carbon Footprint 

The production of clothing and footwear is estimated to contribute 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions – more than all international flights and shipping combined. If the fashion industry were a country, it would be the fourth largest emitter of carbon dioxide

One way to reduce the carbon footprint of the clothes you buy is to opt for sustainable fabrics. Sustainable fabrics, which are often made with natural or recycled fibers, have relatively low carbon footprints compared to petroleum-based fabrics. For example, organic cotton made in the US has a carbon footprint of 2.35 kg CO2 (per ton of spun fiber) – a quarter of polyester’s carbon footprint.

Buying Sustainable Fabrics Reduces Demand For Natural Resources and Waste Management

The textile industry uses water and land to grow cotton and other fibers. It is estimated that 79 billion cubic meters of water were used for the sector worldwide in 2015. For example, producing a single cotton t-shirt requires as much water as one person drinks for 2.5 years (2,700 liters of fresh water).

Worse yet, the textile economy is vastly more linear than circular: the largest amount of resources used in clothes ended up in landfill (instead of being recycled to remake clothes). According to a report by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation,

  • Less than 3% of materials used in the textile economy in 2015 came from recycled sources.
  • In other words, more than 97% of resources used in making clothes are newly extracted. 

When clothing items are disposed of within a short period of time – under a year in the case of half of the fast fashion clothes – the natural systems that provide raw materials for fabrics don’t have enough time to recover and regenerate, which could lead to ecological breakdown. 

Sustainable fabrics are made with less water and emissions while lasting longer:

  • Because they are durable, you don’t need to buy new clothes too often. 
  • Thus, you help reduce the pressure to extract more resources for making new items. 

Similarly, making and consuming sustainable fabrics made with recycled materials reduces the demand for virgin materials while helping tackle waste management. 

Buying Sustainable Fabrics Encourages Sustainable Management of Forests

Sustainable plant-based fabrics are made with raw materials from forests and plantations that are sustainably managed, such as complying with FSC standards

When you buy sustainable plant-based fabrics, you discourage unsustainable forestry practices like illegal logging. You can help reduce deforestation, biodiversity loss, and the effect of climate change. 

Buying Sustainable Fabrics Encourages Fairer Treatment of Animals 

The fashion industry is rife with animal mistreatment when it comes to making animal-based fabrics like cashmere or leather. Every year, billions of animals suffer and die for clothing and accessories.

Buying sustainable vegan alternatives can help to reduce the pressure on raising more and more animals to meet the demand for animal-based fabrics while sacrificing their well-being and lives. 

Suppose you have to buy fabrics made with, for example, leather or wool; make sure you only choose brands committed to cruelty-free products. In that case, you help advocate better treatments for animals raised within the textile industry. 

Using Sustainable Fabrics Encourages Fairer Treatment of Textile Workers 

Recent statistics from UNICEF estimated as many as 170 million child labors worldwide, many of whom were engaged in some form of work in the textile industry. They don’t get paid minimum wages and often work long hours. 

When you buy sustainable fabrics from brands transparent about the working conditions at their factories, you discourage the use of child labor and help promote better working conditions for textile workers.

Final Thoughts

Piñatex is generally a sustainable textile material. It is made in a mechanical process free of harmful chemicals. The main raw material comes from pineapple leaves – a by-product of the existing fruit industry. 

To make it even more sustainable, buy second-hand Piñatex clothing items and accessories, use clothes for as long as possible, upcycle the material to extend its usage, and arrange for it to be recycled.

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