7 Sustainable Materials We Think You Should Know About

The world is well versed on recycled ocean plastic and organic cotton, here are 7 less well known sustainable fabric solutions poised to disrupt the market…

Is Apple Leather the New Pineapple?

As the world has been increasingly exposed to the problematic truths behind the production of virgin leather, alternative leathers have seen a rise in popularity. Whilst synthetic and pineapple leathers have dominated the market, the recent development of apple leather is emerging as a strong contender. As a solution to the waste generated by the apple juice industry, “several million metric tons of apple pomace (apple remains) are estimated to be generated worldwide every year” (MDPI), the leather is manufactured from the pulp left over as a result of juicing. The exact process of how a smooth, leathery texture is created from the cellulose fibres remains an industry secret but the fabric provides an innovative alternative for the production of sneakers and handbags, due to “it’s fully biodegradable, as well as waterproof, breathable, and super durable” (Sustainable Jungleproperties. 

Build a House from Mushrooms 

Does Mycelium sound familiar? We featured the launch of Stella McCartney’s mushroom leather pieces in a fashion feature last month. But the capabilities of Mycelium, a natural funghi material, reaches beyond the apparel industry. Due to its industrial-level strength, Mycelium has been explored in recent years as a potential material for building blocks (Rise). The name Mycelium is a reference to the fragile fibres of fungus (Rise) that extend like the roots of a tree below ground. Once dried, “it becomes incredibly durable and resistant to water, mould, and fire”(Rise). Traditional building materials such as cement, steel and plastic pose a threat to our environment. Creating bricks from Mycelium has the potential to become a leading building material due to its “non-toxic, insulating, and all-natural” (Rise) properties, whilst remaining “100% organic, compostable, and biodegradable” (Rise).  

® Rise

BMW on a Mission to Repurpose Tungsten 

Last month, news reached the world that the German automobile company BMW was continuing to delve into the world of recycling, all as part of its sustainable strategy. Tungsten, or Wolfram, is a rare metal found naturally on Earth currently used in “electrodes, heating elements, field emitters” and “heavy metal alloys, from which cutting tools are manufactured” (RSC). BMW is currently exploring ways to recycle tools made of Tungsten, from their plants in Germany and Austria. By placing this raw material in a circular economy, energy consumption is reduced by 70% and CO2 emissions by over 60%. (BMW). The recycled metal has already been used to manufacture drilling and milling bits in a pilot project conducted at the tool manufacturer Gühring KG in Berlin. 


“Every gram counts for which we can ensure that it conserves natural resources and does not contribute to violations of environmental and social standards”,  

– Dr. Andreas Wendt, BMW  


Dissolvable Packaging Made from Seaweed 

Notpla, the sustainable packaging start-up, has developed a material from seaweed and plants that disappears after use. You may have read about the unparalleled qualities of seaweed in our World Ocean Day article, so it will come as no surprise that Notpla packaging “is made from one of nature’s most renewable resources, brown seaweed” (Notpla). With reports showing that we produce 380 million tons of plastic each year, with 50% made for single-use purposes (Plastic Oceans), Notpla has developed unique products from the plants of our oceans. Using custom-built machinery, Notpla creates products such as cling film, takeaway lids and water pouches, which can be dissolved after use. In fact, marathon runners were handed the water pouches and were able to dissolve the seaweed packaging and water in their mouths. Notpla provides responsible solutions, a far cry from the plastic bottles commonly seen strewn all over the roads after a race. 

® Notpla

MDF Substitute Manufactured from a Humble Potato 

Adhesives employed to manufacture MDF (medium-density fiberboard) have the potential to emit formaldehyde, a carcinogenic gas, through the use of toxic resins. Despite the inclusion of recycled materials to manufacture MDF, according to research, “the UK furniture sector currently disposes of or incinerates 140,000 tonnes of MDF per year” (Dezeen), due to the non-recyclable nature of the adhesive used. 

Rowan Minkley and Robert Nicoll, founders of Chip[s] Board, looked no further than their kitchen food bin to explore an environmentally conscious alternative to the popular building material. Minkley and Nicoll have developed a process in which potato peelings are refined through a variety of stages to create a binding substance that glues the material together. Fibres that Chip[s] Board have developed include “potato skins, bamboo, recycled wood or beer hops” (Dezeen). Once the binding agent is heat pressed with these fibres, the sheet of material can be employed as a sustainable alternative to MDF.  Chip[s] Board collaborates with the potato chip giant McCain for a steady supply of peelings. On a mission to achieve a truly circular economy, once the building fabric has reached the end of its life span, the materials are returned to the farm to be industrially composted into fertilizer for the fields.  

® Chip[s] Board

Pretty Plastic… 

Pretty and plastic are not two words often seen together in the same sentence. But the Dutch trio Reinder Bakker, Hester van Dijk and Peter van Assche saw the potential beauty in “a shipping container full of household plastic garbage” (Pretty Plastic). Through the takeaway lids and shampoo bottles, the founders of Pretty Plastic vowed to create a building tile that would breathe new life into the mound of PVC plastic previously destined for landfill. After receiving little interest from industry giants to manufacture the tiles, the three founders built the Pretty Plastic Plant in order to begin inhouse production of their ground-breaking tiles. Since 2015 the tiles have been employed for the main pavilion during Dutch Design Week, which subsequently caught the attention of the recycling company Govaplast, who eventually became the brand’s production partner. Since its official approval last year, “the tiles are fully fireproof certified and can be applied on any building” (Pretty Plastic). 

Lead Is On The Out… 

PVB  (polyvinyl butyral), is a resin employed in the manufacture of safety glass, which can be found in car windows or car windscreens. Until recently, it was deemed non-recyclable, with research showing in Europe alone, 1.5 billion kilograms of PVB waste contribute to plastic waste every year; for context, that is the equivalent weight of 150 Eiffel towers. In an effort to effectively recycle PVB and eliminate the use of virgin lead in building materials, the Dutch company Leadax introduced the world’s first circular, waterproofing, lead replacement to the market in 2017. Effectively mimicking both the look and feel of lead, Leadex can be applied to flat roofing, flashing or waterproofing basements and can be remoulded by up to 40%. A sustainable future in construction is on the horizon, with Leadex planning to “become the world’s standard in roofing products” (Leadax) 

 “Leadax is already operating on a global scale and is ready for upscaling to accelerate impact.” – Leadax 


by Kim Fischer

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