What is apple leather made of?
Apple leather is considered a biomaterial. It is created using organic waste materials that are recovered before they are sent to landfill. In this instance the organic component is apple waste from the industrial apple industry.
Millions of apples are cultivated every year to make juices, jams, and other food products. The waste elements such as cores and peels are not used, and unless they can be utilised, they are thermally destroyed or deposited in landfills.
How much apple waste is there?
Apple pomace (AP) is one of the most produced types of agri-food waste. Globally it is estimated that we create 4 million tonnes per year. (1)
Why can't we feed the waste to animals you might ask? Well, apple waste risks developing fungus, so it cannot be used on fields or as animal feed. If not managed properly, this type of bio-organic waste can cause serious pollution of the natural environment and public health hazards, mainly due to the risk of microbial contamination.
Diverting this waste not only makes sense for our environment, but it is helping to creating materials which have historically been made using 100% Petro chemicals. Reducing our reliance on fossil fuels is a critical part of revolutionising the fashion industry.
Is apple leather real?
Apple leather is a real material, but despite the commonly added word 'leather' is not actually made with skins of animals. Innovative vegan material like this one are designed to replace leather, so are commonly called 'vegan leathers'. Although the leather industry dislikes the association, this seems to perfectly describe the purpose of the material for consumers. These new future materials are all designed by companies who want to reduce the environmental impact of fashion and reduce the demand of animal leather.
Is apple leather vegan?
As far as we are aware, all the companies creating apple leather are creating 100% vegan materials.
Is apple leather sustainable?
When compared to both cow leather and polyurethane, apple leather is more sustainable.
The most common material for small accessories is cow leather and according to data from the Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC), cow skin leather is the third most negatively impactful material to produce. The SAC index considers climate, water, use of fossil fuels, eutrophication, and other environmental factors to assess fashion materials. In fact, even polyurethane made with 100% Petro chemicals has less than half the impact of cow leather.
Apple leather takes the creation of 'leather like' materials to another level replacing up to 50% of the Petro chemicals with organic waste from apples.
There is a tangible environmental gain when using apple waste over petroleum. The carbon footprint of polyurethane (foam) is 5,28Kg CO2 eq/Kg. In comparison recovered waste has zero impact. Therefore, every Kg of apple residuals used to substitute PU means 5,28Kg of CO2 saved (2)
How do you make apple leather?
There are currently two processes that we know of.
The first involves taking the apple waste and creating a purée. The purée is spread on a solid sheet and dehydrated until almost all the moisture has been removed. This purée turns into a flexible, leathery sheet that can be combined Polyurethane to provide features which extend the life and durability of the material.
The second involves taking the recovered apple waste and reducing it to a powder. Once processed, the powder can be combined with polyurethane and coated onto a material backing. This gives the material additional integrity. This method produces a long-lasting durable finish.
What items can be made with apple leather?
The uses for apple leather are wide reaching, from small accessories, handbags and shoes to the interior for cars and upholstery.
Can apple waste be used for anything else?
Apple waste is a circular material because it can be used to make new materials. It can even be used to make paper. In fact, it is likely this is where the origins of apple leather started. Inventor Alberto Volcan from the Alto Adige region of Northern Italy created paper products from apple waste in 2003. (3)
The Alto Adige region is one of the largest apple producing regions in Europe. Alberto Volcan's method involved a process of drying, cooling, and grinding and his company produced over 60,000 envelopes and 7000 notebooks for local businesses using apple paper.
Diverting this waste grabbed the attention of many. The local Governor or the region Luis Durnwalder recognised the environmental gain when he said, 'This recycling will have a significant impact on industry and the environment.'
How much apple waste is in apple leather?
The percentage of apple waste used in each material will entirely depend on the application it is intended for. Durability and material finish are all determined by the balance of apples vs PU.
For example materials from a company in Italy range in composition from 8% to 39% apple content.
What does the future hold for apple leather?
Innovations in this area are moving on rapidly. We are working closely with Beyond Leather who are developing a new material using apple waste, which boasts a whopping 80% bio content from apples. We will be providing more information on this material and our collaboration in the coming months, so do subscribe to our newsletter to get this news first.
Main photo by Tuqa Nabi
(2) Mabel Industries