Wine + Sustainability with Elizabeth: Volume 10

One Man’s Trash, Is Another’s Treasure – Wine Leather
Photo Cedit: Vegea

Most often when we talk about Sustainability, we speak of the more glamorous sides of things – protecting our planet, ensuring that we have nutrient-rich land for generations to come, water management, labor practices, reducing carbon footprint, etc. But there is one large piece of the puzzle that is less than glamorous, and that is waste. How much are we producing, how are we disposing of it, and what effects does our disposal processes have?

Annual global waste production will increase by 70% if current conditions persist, according to What A Waste 2.0, a report published from the World Bank. “Currently, about 2.01 billion metric tons of municipal solid waste (MSW) are produced annually worldwide. The World Bank estimates overall waste generation will increase to 3.40 billion metric tons by 2050. An estimated 13.5% of today’s waste is recycled and 5.5% is composted. The report estimates that between one-third and 40% of waste generated worldwide is not managed properly and instead dumped or openly burned. (Waste Dive: What A Waste 2.0)”

Of all the products that we consume, we hardly think about what goes into making those products, let alone the waste and by-products that come from that process. The next major leaps in sustainability across many industries will include innovative ways to handle waste, and/or adopting Zero Waste practices and policies.

One Italian Technology company, Vegea, is aiming to do just that. To develop a 100% vegan leather alternative that is recyclable – Wine Leather – created from the waste products of Italian wine production. Worldwide, around 26 billion liters of wine are produced each year. Of that number 18% of that production comes from Italy. And for every 10 liters of wine, there is 2.5kg of waste produced.

So how does one make a leather alternative from wine waste, exactly? Vegea takes the raw material, in this case the grape marc (the skins, seeds, and stalks) and dries them. Once dried, bio-oil is extracted and polymerized. In a process that is patented, the product then goes through a treatment, compounding, and a final stage of coating and finishing. A renewable raw material is created with low environmental impact, and generates no waste water or pollution.

From the 2.5kg of waste produced from the wine making process, Vegea can create 1 square meter of wine leather, or 2.6 billion square meters each year. So how likely are we to see products made of this vegan leather alternative? Vegea is currently working to scale up production, in partnership with the retail chain H&M – as part of their Conscious Collection.

Not only will we see wine leather in stores soon, but Vegea is going one step further. They aim to have consumers returning their old wine leather items in exchange for a coupon/credit. The old wine leather then can be reprocessed and used again for other products. Though the details of the recycling program are in its infancy, and it has not been disclosed how many times the leather can be reprocessed and reused, these are all steps in the right direction. Not only does Vegea work with the waste products of the wine industry, but also other agriculture industries to create new materials for fashion, furniture, packaging, automotive and transportation!