Gli scarti delle lavorazioni agro-alimentari rivelano nuove prospettive di utilizzo, in una logica di economia circolare che trova già applicazione concreta. Non solo bioplastiche ma anche tessuti, ricavati dalle fibre vegetali e trasformati in abiti. ‘From the trash to high couture: wearable food waste is transforming the fashion industry’, l’analisi di Sara Cavagnero e Luca Lazzarini, qui pubblicata in anteprima. Breve sintesi a seguire.
Emergenza Terra, quanti abiti servono?
Il depauperamento di risorse naturali preziose come acqua e suolo, l’inquinamento e il cambiamento climatico stanno portando il pianeta al collasso. Si deve invertire la rotta, perseguire la sostenibilità nelle scelte (collettive e individuali) di produzione e di consumo. I cibi, l’energia e i trasporti ma anche gli abiti hanno il loro impatto socio-ambientale.
‘La prevista crescita della popolazione globale, che dovrebbe superare gli 8,5 miliardi di persone entro il 2030, aggraverà ulteriormente la situazione. Il consumo complessivo di abbigliamento si stima aumenterà del 63%. Contemporaneamente, sarà necessario incrementare del 60% la produzione agricola per sfamare tutti’
‘Sustainable fashion’, una questione di civiltà
‘Quando indossiamo una maglietta, raramente pensiamo ai 2.700 litri d’acqua necessari per produrla. La stessa quantità che una persona beve in 3 anni‘, sottolineano Sara Cavagnero e Luca Lazzarini. Il punto è che degli abiti non si può fare a meno, nella civiltà moderna. Si può invece pretendere che la loro produzione risponda a criteri etici, nel rispetto dei diritti umani fondamentali e dell’ambiente.
Il vero guaio è rappresentato dall’imperante diffusione di abiti a prezzi stracciati, la cosiddetta ‘McFashion‘, che spesso amplifica i danni ambientali e sociali già caratteristici del settore moda-abbigliamento. A contrasto di questo fenomeno si pone il movimento Slow fashion, fondato nel 2007 da Kate Fletcher, professoressa del London College of Fashion che traspone nel settore moda i valori di Slow Food. Alcuni esempi di impatto degli abiti su società e ambiente:
– rifiuti. L’abbigliamento ‘usa-e-getta’ (per la pessima qualità dei materiali impiegati) comporta un aumento dei rifiuti che si stima in circa 12-14 tonnellate al secondo,
– inquinamento. L’approvvigionamento di fibre naturali e sintetiche, i processi di tintura e e lavorazione sono altamente inquinanti, oltre a consumare ingenti quantità di energia, acqua e terra,
– spargimento di microplastiche. Gli abiti a prezzi stracciati sono realizzati in prevalenza con fibre sintetiche, le quali si degradano in microplastiche che attraverso le acque finiscono in mare e nei campi. Per ritornare a noi, attraverso gli alimenti che le assorbono,
– violazione dei diritti umani e dei lavoratori. Il vero prezzo degli abiti ‘low cost’ è costituito dalla vita e i diritti degli operai nei Paesi a reddito medio-basso (LMIC, Low-Medium Income Countries). Lavoro minorile e sfruttamento privo di alcuna sorta di tutela. 6 anni sono trascorsi dalla tragedia del Rana Plaza (Bangladesh, 2003, 1.134 morti e 2.500 feriti nell’opificio a servizio delle grandi firme della moda occidentale), ma nulla è cambiato nella globalizzazione dello sfruttamento.
‘Sustainable clothes’, abiti e tessuti dagli scarti alimentari
La sostenibilità e durabilità degli abiti è il nuovo approccio che si va a proporre nell’industria della moda. La quale a sua volta non può sottrarsi all’imperativo categorico della CSV (Contributing to Social Values). Poiché i Millennials, la generazione della speranza, sono ancor più attenti alla sostenibilità dei consumi. Anche lo sfarzo e l’edonismo caratteristici del settore fashion devono perciò fare i conti con la sopravvivenza del pianeta e la dignità di chi lo abita.
I nuovi tessuti che derivano dagli scarti alimentari vengono ideati e realizzati anche in Italia. In Sicilia, la ‘Orange Fiber’ ha sviluppato il primo tessuto al mondo con cellulosa estratta dai co-prodotti della spremitura degli agrumi. La britannica Ananas Anam ha invece creato Piñatex, una simil-pelle ricavata dalla fibra d’ananas. La taiwanese Singtex produce invece un filato compostabile, il S.Café, che deriva dalla miscela di fondi di caffè con il poliestere ottenuto dal riciclo di bottiglie di plastica scartate.
I ConsumAttori, come sempre, sono i soli a poter imporre un cambiamento. Condividere l’informazione, sensibilizzare le parti sociali interessate, imporre una filiera equa e sostenibile. Innovare i materiali, innovare la logica.
Dario Dongo e Marta Strinati
From the trash to high couture: wearable food waste is transforming the fashion industry
Sara Cavagnero, Luca Lazzarini
The fashion and food industries seem worlds apart. One is focused on trend-setting and design, the other on growing, processing, manufacturing and distributing food, from the farm to retail shops and restaurants. For a long time, synergies and trade-offs between these sectors have been overlooked. More recently, however, the two industries came together to tackle common challenges, unleashing innovative and sustainable solutions.
The case for change is undisputable. When we look at the Earth from the perspective of the planetary boundaries, as defined by the Stockholm Resilience Center, it becomes clear that the planet is facing significant tensions based on human activity. We are already beyond safe operating space in terms of climate change, waste pollution, changes in land use, and biochemical output.
Shifting climate patterns. Both the food and fashion industries are highly vulnerable to climate variations as agriculture and raw materials for textiles depend on ecological processes. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change(IPCC) reports that the observed impact of climate change has led to devastating impacts from storm damage, food insecurity through crop failure, growing water scarcity, and increased risks to human health. Although the harm is not exclusively generated by the food and fashion sectors, their linear business models heavily contribute to burden natural resources in terms of greenhouse gas emissions, water use and pollution, waste, and land use change. The projected growth in the global population, expected to exceed 8.5 billion people by 2030, will further exacerbate the situation. The overall apparel consumption is estimated to surge by 63%. Concurrently, a 60% increase in agricultural production is required to feed everyone.
Behavioural patterns putting resources at stake. The way we eat and dress has changed considerably over the last few decades, increasing the pressure on the natural resource base. Like the 1980s fast food revolution, the so-called “McFashion” relies on mass production, low prices and results in one garbage truck of textiles (about 12 to 14 tonnes) wasted every second. Synthetic fibres have taken the lead globally, shedding microfibres that make their way from the washing machine into rivers, lakes and oceans, poisoning fish and other wildlife that eventually ends up eaten by humans. As the “slow food” movement was a reaction to unhealthy fast diets, aiming to bring nutrition back to local, traditional non-processed food, a growing movement is advocating for a transition towards a “slow” fashion, more durable and sustainable.
The hidden price tagof the fashion supply chain.The harvesting and sourcing of natural and synthetic fibers, and their dyeing and processing, is highly polluting and consumes considerable quantities of resources like energy, water and land – that are also at the core of agricultural activities.
However, when we wear a t-shirt, we rarely think of the 2.700 liters of water it took to produce it – the same amount that a person drinks in 3 years. Similarly, we do not necessarily connect the demise of the Aral Sea to the irrigation of the “thirsty” cotton crops, or the pollution of rivers, also used for agricultural irrigation, to the toxicity and quantities of dyes used to colour our garments.
Unfortunately, the situation does not get any better as far as the social impacts of the apparel industry are concerned. Fashion’s contribution to employment and livelihoods in most developing countries coexists with employment volatility, informality, low wages, child labour and more generally, poor – or inexistent – worker’s rights that entail long working hours and inadequate, health and safety measures. Particularly striking is the case of the 2013 Rana Plaza accident in Bangladesh: the day before the collapse of the building, some cracks were discovered in the construction and a bank, together with other shops, were consequently immediately closed. Garment workers, instead, were ordered to return the following day, and the building collapsed during the morning rush-hour, leading to the death of 1,134 persons and approximately 2,500 injured.
Food loss and waste. Although reducing food loss and waste is critical to reaching the world’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), especially SDG 2 (End Hunger) and SDG 12 (Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns), when it comes to the defining the two concepts, things might not be that straightforward.
Different definitions – with different meanings – are being, and have been used. As a result, in 2014 the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations proposed a common definition within the “Global Initiative on Food Loss and Waste Reduction”. An assumption to start with is that food is lost or wasted throughout the food supply chain, from the production to the consumption stage, or in other words, “from farm to fork”. Causes underlying this fact are multiple, diverse as to their nature and vary according to the context: for example, in medium- and high-income countries food is to a significant extent wasted at the consumption stage, meaning that it is discarded even if it is still suitable for human consumption; in low-income countries food loss can be related e.g. to limited financial, managerial and technical capacities, to poor infrastructure or inadequate storage facilities.
A stark contrast exists in the actual global food system. On one hand, according to FAO, roughly one-third of all food produced each year worldwide is loss or wasted. On the other hand, as disclosed by FAO’s 2018 flagship publication “The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World”, nearly 821 million people were undernourished – i.e. facing chronic food deprivation – in 2017. The same report also clearly highlights that, for the third year in a row, global hunger is rising instead of decreasing.
The detrimental effects of food loss and waste.Roughly 1.3 billion tons per year of food is lost or wasted. This implies that all the resources and inputs required to produce, store, process, transport and eventually sell such an enormous amount of food are used in vain – a clear inefficiency from an economic standpoint. In light of the aforementioned global challenges, this useless dissipation of resources appears even less tolerable. Another worrisome point relates to the environmental pollution associated to the food that is then lost or wasted. Again, data are self-explanatory: food loss and waste alone generate about 8% of Global Greenhouse Gas Emissions. Finally, it is worth noting that food loss and waste – as a loss in the economic value of what is produced – also negatively impacts the livelihoods of producers and the income of consumers.
From Linear to Circular Economy. In a business-as-usual scenario, both the food and fashion industries will have to deal with scarcity and depletion of key resources, as the current production and consumption patterns, in light of the aforementioned global challenges, cannot be sustained on the long term. As a consequence, there is a compelling need to move away from the linear “take-make-dispose” system and shift to a circular approach focused on greater recycling, restorative, and transformative strategies.
What is considered as a waste in a linear model, becomes a resource in the context of a circular economy. Therefore, the loop between raw materials and waste is closed, ensuring that all resources are used as efficiently as possible.
The EU legislation is creating incentives to close the loop of product lifecycles. In the last years, brands, investors, industry initiatives, and policy makers have shown a growing interest in circular economy models. In 2015, the European Union adopted the Circular Economy Action Plan, establishing a set of actions to facilitate and promote the transition to a system “where the value of products, materials and resources is maintained in the economy for as long as possible, and the generation of waste minimised”.
To better reflect the Union’s ambition to move to a circular economy, reduce the EU’s dependence on the import of raw materials, promote a prudent, efficient and rational use of natural resources, a revised legislative framework on waste entered into force in July 2018, amending the European Waste Framework Directive (2008/98/EC). The main aim of the new piece of legislation is to ensure that valuable material embedded in waste is effectively re-used, recycled and re-injected into the European economy.
Food waste prevention and reduction are specifically included among the priority areas of the Circular Economy Action Plan. In addition, the new Framework Directive (EU) 2018/851 on waste, in line with the Goal 12.3 of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, sets an indicative Union-wide food waste reduction target of 30% by 2025 and 50% by 2030. Despite relevant advances, the potential of food waste to create new business opportunities, following the extraction of valuable compounds, still seems under-estimated by the new EU framework. Nevertheless, industrial biotechnology does already offer effective strategies and tools for the re-utilization and valorisation of co-products, by-products and waste of the food industry, enabling the achievement of a significant increase of environmental, social and economic sustainability.
Edible innovations: today’s trash, tomorrow’s treasure. With fashion brands seeking more sustainable innovations and bio-materials, it is no wonder that envisioning a new life for food waste as a resource for the apparel sector appears as a promising opportunity for both industries. The advantages are twofold: on the one hand, turning waste into a resource is an essential part of increasing resource efficiency and closing the loop in a circular economy, improving waste management practices, and limiting the use of landfilling. On the other hand, recycled and innovative fibres do not require any extra farmland, water, fertilisers or pesticides to produce. In addition, involvement in sustainability initiatives can serve as a real source of brand differentiation: from new product development to innovative campaigns, more-sustainable solutions seem increasingly attractive for a growing customer base, and especially among Millennials.
Many technologically sophisticated methods of treating food waste and by-products to produce fibres are already in commerce, with other waste-derived creations on the horizon.
The most prominent example is Orange Fiber, a patent with an Italian soul which made it possible to produce the first fabricin the world with cellulose extracted from the by-product of citrus juice production. Developed by a start-up based in Sicily, this yarn with a silky feel was awarded the H&M Foundation Global Change Award in 2016. Salvatore Ferragamo was the first brand to use Orange Fibre’s innovative fabric for the Spring-Summer 2017 season, setting a new sustainability standard in fashion and luxury.
Adding value to waste not only entails low environmental impact, but also positive social outcomes. Working to the values of a circular economy, the Ananas Anam company patented Piñatex, an innovative leather-like material made from pineapple leaf ﬁbre, a by-product of the fruit industry which is traditionally discarded or burned. Fibres are extracted through a process called decortication, which is done at the plantation by the farming community. Once the fibre has been stripped from the leaf, the leftover biomass is retained to use as a natural fertiliser or biofuel, offering a further economic prospect. The company is currently working with farming cooperatives in the Philippines, but is planning to expand to other pineapple growing countries. Adding value to waste has supported the local economy and strengthened their exports by creating an additional stream of income for rural communities, who otherwise rely on a seasonal harvest.
Have you ever imagined that the coffee we drink could be transformed into the garments we wear, at the same time helping to reduce plastic pollution? Patented by the Taiwanese company Singtex, S.Café is a yarn created by combining coffee grounds with polyester obtained from discarded plastic bottles. The resulting material – which can already be found in a number of products from leading fashion companies such as Hugo Boss, Timberland, American Eagle, North Face and Puma – is multi-functional and can be suitable for a variety of uses, from outdoor and sportswear to household items. The coffee grounds used to create the yarn are recycled from some of the world’s largest coffee vendors, like Starbucks, as well as from local coffee shops. In addition, garments made from S.Café can also be composted at the end of their life, giving them a circular lifecycle.
The future is not a place we’re going to, but a place we create. So far, the relation between the fashion and food industries has been pictured in negative terms, with the former blamed of fueling food shortages and subtracting precious natural resources to the latter. Quite the contrary, more recent developments show that cross-industry collaboration can lead to regenerative impacts for the benefit of nature, society, and economics. As provided for by SDG 17, a successful sustainable development agenda requires partnerships built upon principles and values, a shared vision, and shared goals that place people and the planet at the centre. The joint efforts outlined above are moving in this direction, and seem particularly encouraging given that the fashion and food industries are tackling similar challenges in a number of impact areas along their value chains, from raw material production to end-of-life disposal.
Partnerships appear as the answer to close the loop. Taking innovations global, fostering cross-industry collaboration and encouraging supporting regulatory action may open up new – and more sustainable – opportunities for business, despite the pressures of resource scarcity.
About the authors
Qualified lawyer and scholar at UNINT University in Rome, Sara has extensive international experience, having worked at the EU Delegation in Indonesia and ASEAN, the UN Crime and Justice Research Institute in Geneva, as well as the Italian Red Cross and the International Chamber of Commerce in Rome. Her work focuses on sustainability in fashion supply chains, with specific attention to transparency, traceability, and innovations.
Luca holds a Law Master’s degree – from Università degli Studi di Milano – and a LL.M. in Food Law – from LUISS School of Law. He has worked at the International Chamber of Commerce in Rome, at the European Commission – DG AGRI – in Brussels and at UNDP’s International Policy Centre for Inclusive Growth in Brazil. Main research areas – food and agriculture, sustainable development, poverty reduction.