What Is Piñatex?

This innovative natural material is made from leftover pineapple leaves.

Aerial view of a pile of pineapples
Piñatex is made from pineapple leaves that would otherwise be discarded. Phung Huynh Vu Qui / Getty Images

Piñatex is an innovative natural material made from pineapple leaves, a byproduct of the fruit harvest. Tough and durable, it is commonly used as an eco-friendly material for vegan leather by fashion designers who want to avoid petroleum-based products.

How Piñatex Is Made

Piñatex is made from pineapple leaves that are left over after the fruit is harvested. It is an innovative way of utilizing a product that would otherwise be discarded, which reduces the amount of organic waste going to landfill and thus the methane emissions that would result. 

Piñatex was developed by Dr. Carmen Hijosa, a Spanish leathergoods expert who grew horrified at the environmental impact of leather production while working in the Philippines in the 1990s. Nor did she approve of the petroleum-based alternatives that are commonly used, such as polyvinyl chloride and polyurethane. At the same time, Hijosa noticed how some traditional Filipino garments were made from pineapple fibers, which kickstarted her research into how such a resource could be transformed into something more widely usable.

The fabric is made by extracting fibers from the pineapple leaves after harvest. They are washed and dried in the sun, then undergo a purification process that results in a fluffy fiber. This fluff is blended with corn-based polylactic acid (PLA) and turned into a non-woven mesh called "Piñafelt," which is the base for Piñatex products. This mesh is then sent to Italy or Spain for finishing, where it is colored using pigments certified by the Global Organic Textile Standard and given a coating that adds durability, strength, and water resistance, as well as a metallic sheen if desired.

Dezeen reported, "Around 480 leaves [from 16 pineapple plants] go into the creation of a single square meter of Piñatex, which weighs and costs less than a comparable amount of leather." Because the fabric is natural, it is breathable, as well as flexible; it can easily be printed on and stitched. It's produced in a roll, which means less waste than when an irregularly-shaped animal hide is used. 

The Environmental Impact of Piñatex

The global pineapple industry is huge, with an estimated 40,000 tons of leaves left over every year, according to Dezeen. Usually, they are burned or left to rot, so repurposing them means less organic waste going to landfills and fewer methane emissions. Using waste products requires no added inputs, such as water or chemicals to produce. The biomass left over after the purification process can be composted to return nutrients to the soil or used in biogas production.

Piñatex's Effect on Animals

The greatest advantage of Piñatex is the fact that it can replace animal leather. The leather industry is notoriously damaging to the environment, from the concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) in which cows are raised to the chemically-intensive processes that are used to prepare hides. Many heavy metals are used, posing a threat to workers and to people living downstream of the rivers in which wastewater is discarded.

Piñatex is free from animal products, and is both PETA-approved and registered by the Vegan Society.

Is Piñatex Biodegradable?

Piñatex fabric is not biodegradable, as it contains polylactic acid (a thermoplastic polyester also known as bio-plastic) and polyurethane resin coating. Bio-plastics are often touted as an environmentally-friendly solution to petroleum-based plastics, but research has found that they do not break down readily and much depends on where they end up. The United National Environmental Programme stated that "plastics marked as ‘biodegradable’ do not degrade rapidly in the ocean." Many also leave a toxic residue, even if they do biodegrade. 

The Ananas-Anam website (Piñatex's parent company) says two of its future goals are "controlled degradation" and recycling by shredding fiber, so this is a situation that the company is striving to improve. They say that, currently, the "substrate/base material of Piñatex (made from 80% pineapple leaf fiber, 20% PLA) is biodegradable under controlled industry conditions."

Nevertheless, an item made from Piñatex has a higher percentage of natural content than an all-plastic item. It's a sign of progress toward more sustainable design, and it is still worth supporting. The more waste materials can be repurposed into useful, attractive belongings, the better off we'll all be. Piñatex is also the first branded textile to attain Certified B Corporation status in the United Kingdom.

The Future of Piñatex

Piñatex is a versatile material that is suitable for footwear, bags, upholstery, clothing, pet leashes, and more. It has already been adopted by 1,000 shoe companies, fashion labels, and hotel chains around the world, including Hugo Boss, H&M, and the Hilton Hotel Bankside. The number of partnerships is likely to grow as more designers and consumers discover its benefits.