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Chemistry, Materials & Packaging
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Cow Dung, Kombucha Bio-Textiles Bring ‘Trashion’ to a Whole New Level

You may have heard the term ‘trashion’ in reference to clothing made out of trash, an art form that has grown over the past few years among students, artists and fashionistas alike with passions for both style and the environment. Well, these two new “bio-textiles” give “waste fashion” a new meaning.

Designer and entrepreneur Jalila Essaïdi has developed a new material using cow dung. The eco-friendly fabric is called Mestic, after mest, the Dutch word for manure. In the Netherlands, where the designer is based, the livestock industry exceeded its 2015 phosphate ceiling by 4.6 million kilogrammes due to an excess of manure. Since phosphate and nitrogen compounds found in manure can be harmful to the soil, water and air, proposals have been made to limit the number of cows in order to regulate the surplus.

Essaïdi instead proposes the industry create a circular economy for the waste, and make new materials from it. Essaïdi and her team deconstruct manure to use the cellulose within it to create bio- textiles, plastics, and paper.

“In Germany, for instance, great advances have been made in the fermentation of manure into fertilizer; others have succeeded in turning manure into energy. Those are great initiatives, but they’re not very efficient,” Essaïdi said in a statement. “And even at their peak performance, they are still only partial solutions. A true result would be to completely strip the manure and use the resultant cellulose to manufacture new, biomaterial products. And once you’ve made that step, you’ll notice: manure is worth its weight in gold.”

In theory, using manure could also decrease the use of raw materials from other natural resources such as trees, cotton, or oil.

“We naturally want the Moerdijk scale-up to really start manufacturing a lot of stuff, but we will also license Mestic, allowing other parties to have a go at it,” Essaïdi told Ecouterre. “After cows, we’ll tackle pigs. And after that? Who knows.”


Meanwhile, scientist Dr. Peter Musk is leading research on kombucha-based bio-textiles at the Queensland University of Technology (QUT). He described it to ABC News Australia as smelly and unpredictable, but sustainable.

“It's a democratic material which means anyone can make it in their kitchen with a minimum amount of fuss,” he said.

Kombucha is produced by fermenting tea using bacteria and yeast cultures. Back in 2003, fashion designer Suzanne Lee pioneered the concept of using it to make “vegan leather.” The slimy skin of fermented kombucha tea can be made into a waterproof, durable textile if the culture is combined with yeast to create a curd, which is then stretched and dried. Musk’s team has been developing ways to make hard-wearing items such as shoes and jackets from the material.

“The most recent thing I’ve come up with is good old coconut oil,” Musk told ABC. “If you rub coconut oil into it when you dry it, it remains supple and plastic and much more pliable.”

“We’ve tried various ways of using the material, that's when we found sewing wasn't very good, moulding and gluing were much more preferable,” he explained.

Dean Brough, the head of studies at QUT’s School of Design, said kombucha-derived clothing is already on catwalks in the United States in Britain, and believes that it has huge potential for widespread use. It’s a cellulose fabric, meaning it could easily be recycled into new garments or other materials over and over again, according to Brough.

“To my surprise it hasn't been taken up on a commercial scale — I think it could be mass produced commercially relatively quickly,” he said. “The technology is very low scale — it's really just the volume that would be required.”

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