Sustainability and reuse practices

The Italian textile and food sectors have much in common. They are both backbone economies of our Country and represent the soul of Made in Italy in the world. At the same time, both are subject to transformation policies due to their high impact in terms of waste generated at each stage of the production chain.

Circular economy models aim to reintroduce waste and industrial wastes, valorising in order to reuse them in the context of production.

According to the Bioeconomy in Europe Report, agro-food waste from the European supply chain amounted to 171 kg per capita in 2018, of which 38% was borne by households (65 kg per capita), 28% attributable to industrial processing (with 24 million tonnes for 48 kg per capita) and 20% linked to the agricultural sector (34 kg per capita). Waste from industrial processing in our country amounts to less than half the European average, with 15 kg per capita.

Therefore, the adoption of a sustainability mindset in the agro-food sector aims at reducing food waste, mostly domestic (over-purchases, poorly preserved food, leftovers and food scraps); on the other hand, it aims at reducing and valorising the share of organic waste produced in industrial processing (damaged products, processing waste, overproduction).

Secondary organic waste from food production is a great resource for the production of biomass and biomaterials.

The fashion industry is one of the most resource-intensive sectors: the adoption of fast fashion and increasingly compulsive purchases, also dictated by excessively low prices and continuous offers, are factors that have contributed to the overexploitation of water, carbon dioxide generated by production and microplastics released into the environment.

In 2017, the Global Fashion Agenda calculated the fashion industry's ecological footprint at between 4 and 6 per cent, being responsible for 10 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions and consuming 79 billion cubic metres of water in 2015. It is estimated that textile production is responsible for the use of 1900 chemical products (of which 165 are considered by the EU to be seriously hazardous to the environment and health), 20% of global water pollution, and that 0.5 million tonnes of synthetic fibres are derived from washing clothing, especially synthetic clothing, which pollute our seas every year.

A second order of problems relates to the excess of unsold or no longer used clothing: a European citizen consumes 26 kg of clothing annually, disposing of 11 kg, most of which goes to landfill.

The main strategies for more sustainable fashion therefore aim, on the one hand, to incentivise companies to produce in a sustainable and responsible manner, suggesting the expansion of repair and reuse services. On the other hand, they aim at implementing consumer awareness with respect to their purchases and clothing management behavior, encouraging critical, conscious and responsible consumption, promoting practices that can extend the life cycle of products.

The European Green New Deal and the CEAP (Circularity Economy Action Plan), focused on the centrality of the textile sector in the transition strategies towards sustainability, and the recycling of textile materials, today limited globally to around 1%.

It also encourages the use, within the textile industry, of all those materials coming from different supply chains, from the building industry to the agro-food industry, focusing on the development of technologies capable of implementing circularity strategies.

Based on these premises, the last few years have seen the emergence of various interactions between the fashion and agrifood sectors, with a view to reducing and valorising the waste deriving from the related industrial processing.

From an international point of view, new textile fibres produced from food waste have been born in Japan with what is called vegetable cashmere (Soyebean Protein Fiber) obtained from the waste of soya processing, and with Craybon, from the extraction of chitosan from the exoskeleton of crustaceans then blended with fibres such as linen or cotton. In the United States, with corn fibre, which can also be used in the construction industry; in Taiwan, with S. Café, a fibre born from the processing of coffee grounds and with high breathability and anti-odour capacity.

In Europe, Piñatex fabrics have been patented in Spain, from the processing of industrial pineapple waste; Bananatex, patented in Switzerland, from the processing of banana peels; Qmilk, patented in Germany and derived from casein obtained from the processing of skimmed milk waste.

Italy, too, boasts a number of very innovative patents in this regard, exploiting the great wealth of agricultural production that characterises our territory from north to south.

Appleskin is a fabric patented by Frumat and has its roots in Bozen, in the rich apple district. It is manufactured and processed in Florence, a city historically linked to leather and hide processing.

The experience of Orange Fiber also blends different local know-how: in Sicily, where the company is based, cellulose is extracted from orange waste, while weaving takes place in northern Italy.

Vegea - Wine Leather, on the other hand, is a company founded in Milan in 2016 that produces vegan leather from the industrial waste of wine production, where Italy is the leading country with 18% of global wine production.

There is really a lot of room for improvement to promote sustainability on many levels, even by bringing together sectors that apparently do not have much in common.

It is important that both producers and consumers are adequately, constantly and punctually informed, to make them aware of their responsibilities and to nurture an environmental awareness that increasingly favours ecological choices.

Redazione Sol&Agrifood