Innovation That Matters

Phool turns discarded flowers into environmentally friendly leather | Photo source The Earthshot Prize

Making plastic-free leather from discarded flowers

Springwise Earthshot

A new material prevents harmful chemicals from entering waterways

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Spotted: Ritual offerings of flowers are an important part of Indian daily life. But what happens to temple flowers after religious ceremonies? Flowers used in religious rituals are considered sacred and are therefore not disposed of in landfill. Instead, rivers such as the Ganges are the ultimate destination for much of the 800 million tonnes of daily floral waste.

Flowers may seem far from threatening. But 96 per cent of them contain pesticides at levels 10,000 times the safe limit. These chemicals wash off in the water and endanger the eco-system by suppressing oxygen levels and forming toxic compounds.

Kanpur-based startup Phool is tackling this problem by turning discarded flowers into ‘Fleather’ – an alternative to animal and plastic leather. In doing so, it is also reducing another pollution source: toxic waste from leather tanneries.

Temple flowers are collected by a team of ‘flowercyclers’ and brought to Phool’s factory. After non-biodegradable waste is removed, the stems and petals are separated. The stems are used for vermicomposting while the petals are sent to the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT). Here the team encourages natural fungi to grow over an extract prepared from the petals, creating Fleather. The finished material is then sold to fashion brands to make clothes, shoes, and handbags.

Other leather alternatives spotted by Springwise include leather made from invasive lionfish, cell-cultured leather, and a plastic-free leather made from hemp plants.

Written By: Matthew Hempstead



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