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Fashion for Good’s latest project transforms agricultural waste into fibres

By Simone Preuss


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Image: agricultural waste in India by Karthik S. / Unsplash

In its latest project, “Untapped Agricultural Waste”, global sustainable initiative Fashion for Good wants to turn agricultural waste into fibres. To achieve this goal, the initiative has teamed up with the Laudes Foundation for funding, Fashion for Good partners Adidas, Bestseller, Vivobarefoot and Birla Cellulose as well as the six innovators AltMat, Bananatex, Chlorohemp, Agraloop by Circular Systems, HempTex India and 9Fiber.

Together, the consortium project will assess the technical feasibility of natural fibres created by the selected innovators using agricultural waste such as rice husks, hemp, wheat straw, banana and pineapple and validate and scale technologies that can successfully transform agricultural waste into sustainable textile fibres.

“This ambitious project explores a new source of feedstocks for the fashion industry that, if scaled, will help drive both the agriculture and textile industry towards net-zero. We see great potential for these various agriculture waste streams that would otherwise have few secondary uses. By applying innovative technologies to develop natural fibres, we can diminish the pressure on existing natural fibres and shift away from unsustainable materials and sources,” explained Katrin Ley, Fashion for Good’s managing director, in a press release.

Why is agricultural waste problematic?

Theoretically, agricultural waste does not have to be a problem as it can be used in a variety of ways, for example as animal feed, compost, biofuel or for industrial purposes. However, in reality, agricultural waste poses significant challenges for farmers in South and Southeast Asia and in many cases, the waste is not repurposed and is often burned. According to Fashion for Good, up to 92 million tonnes of agricultural waste are burned annually in India alone, which in 2017 resulted in approximately 149 million tonnes of CO2.

Image: agricultural waste streams / Fashion for Good

At the same time, the extraction and processing of virgin, conventional fibres such as cotton and polyester accounts for up to 39 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in the textile supply chain, which Fashion for Good’s recent report “Unlocking the Trillion-Dollar Fashion Decarbonisation Opportunity” highlighted. “Raw Material innovation is essential to reducing these emissions, and the next generation of materials are key if the industry is to decarbonise its supply chain,” states Fashion for Good.

Agricultural waste as an opportunity

Fashion for Good’s 18-months “Untapped Agricultural Waste Project” wants to show that agricultural waste does not have to be a problem but can be an opportunity. Together, the aforementioned partners and the six fibre innovators will explore opportunities to repurpose agricultural waste into viable new natural fibre blends as an alternative to conventional fibres and virgin fibres derived from unsustainable materials such as oil.

The focus of the six innovators will be to develop a variety of different natural fibres and fibre blends with a focus on trialling the highest percentage of agricultural waste, while also achieving the necessary performance requirements. Supply chain partner Birla Cellulose will work closely with the innovators providing expertise to develop and prepare their new materials for wider adoption in the fashion supply chain, with the participating project brand partners supporting the testing and eventual scaling of these fibres. 

With the support of catalytic funding from the Laudes Foundation, the project also leverages findings from the 2021 report, “Spinning Future Threads” by the Institute for Sustainable Communities, the World Resources Institute India and the Dutch Wageningen University and research institution. The report maps agricultural waste in eight countries across South and Southeast Asia, identifying the untapped opportunities in agricultural waste streams including rice husks, wheat straw, banana and pineapple production, which are the focus of the new project.

The first phase of the project will conclude in December 2022, after which it will pilot the agricultural waste fibres from selected innovators in collaboration with partner brands and supply chain players in commercial facilities to produce larger quantities. This should further drive supply chain adoption and move beyond lab scale, with this next phase “ultimately aiming to further enable brand offtake agreements and financing to facilitate scaling”, according to Fashion for Good.

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