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Product, Service & Design Innovation
Dutch Design Students Turning Fruit Waste Into Leather

Not to be confused with the Fruit Rollups many of us probably grew up with here in the States — we’re talking about a solution to one of South Holland's (not to mention the rest of the Western world’s) biggest social issues (food waste), developed by a group of undergraduates from Willem de Kooning Academie in Rotterdam. Once the students discovered that Rotterdam's market vendors discard more than 7,700 pounds of overripe or cosmetically unattractive produce (which thankfully major retailers from the US, UK, France and Canada are working to market) per day, they took it upon themselves to concoct a solution. Apparently inspired by the culinary technique used to create candy-like "leather" (like those fruit rollups I mentioned) in which fruits are mashed, cooked and dried, the team arrived at a durable, versatile "Fruitleather" that they hope will not only create applications for the wasted produce but also promote awareness of the issue.

The resulting textile, according to student Hugo de Boon, is similar to conventional leather, with slight differences in durability and texture depending on the type of produce used.

“Every centimeter is unique. It is a material with a clear structure and texture that differs by each type or fruit that is used,” he recently told AD.nl.

So far the team has created prototypes of a handbag made from mangoes, a shopping bag from nectarines, and a lampshade from pulped peaches. De Boon and his team are still experimenting with different combinations of fruits and vegetables to potentially boost their fruitleather’s strength and durability.

“A strawberry patch leather is quite fragile, tearing if you often fold [it],” he said. “Adding pumpkin or apple can change that.”

According to AD.nl, the young leather makers will appear later this summer at an international trade fair for innovative materials and have already been approached by shoe manufacturers. The site says the students have also piqued the interest of several manufacturers, including a company in Germany that makes leather seats for companies such as BMW and Porsche.

“Fruit might just yield an alternative, animal-friendly upholstery,” de Boon said.

Not that we should in any way be encouraged to continue our wasteful habits when it comes to food in the Western world, but designers and scientists are finding more and more creative applications for food waste — startups have recently turned fishery waste into leather, coffee grounds into biofuel and food waste into dinnerware, while Ford and Heinz partnered last year to turn surplus tomato skins from the ketchup-making process into bioplastic for car parts.

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