‘Just because it’s vegan doesn’t mean it’s sustainable or biodegradable’: Here’s the complicated truth behind plant-based materials — the latest eco fashion fad

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mushroom leather
Leather made from mushrooms. Credit: MycoWorks

In the accelerated push for mitigating the plastic crisis and exhaustive raw material use while appeasing a new guard of vegan consumers, scientists are peering back to natural solutions instead of fossil-based synthetic raw materials.

But plant-powered materials — as with any solution — aren’t perfect, either.

Just because it’s vegan doesn’t mean it’s sustainable or biodegradable.

Lurking in the layers of some plant-based materials are synthetics — denting any edible connotations for textiles made from mushrooms (mycelium), pineapple and more.

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There’s also a growing trend toward carbon capture technologies which enable brands like Covalent — from the Huntington Beach-based biotechnology company Newlight Technologies Inc. — to extract carbon from the air with its novel “AirCarbon” material.

Turning to agricultural waste as feedstock not unlike the leather industry, textiles like Piñatex get its name from the use of excess pineapple leaf fiber, Vegea from apple orchard waste, and vineyards and Desserto from milled cactus leaves.

But these solutions aren’t rid of synthetics entirely, even if in trace amounts. For building durability, it’s common for bio-based materials to pose “hidden synthetics” in the form of solvents, coatings or plasticizers.

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