Local Business Turns Banana Tree Waste Into Vegan Wallets

The project is designed to help the local banana farmers in the community.

Credit: Collective Evolution

Although faux leather is seen as cruelty-free alternative to real leather, they both in fact have a huge impact on the natural environment. Both the meat and leather industries are very heavily connected, despite the animal agriculture market being much more heavily documented, including its vast damage of the environment. Recent UN reports claim that the industry creates a huge 18% of greenhouse gas emissions, which equals to more than all of the transport emissions combined, according to recent reports.

When examining the leather industry specifically, the major concerns are deforestation, water drainage and tanning. Leather tanning is in fact one of the top 10 pollution problems in the world, due to the fact that animal hides are being tanned with a large quantity of dangerous chemicals, which then generate gallons of waste that contain a high concentration of pollutants. Although vegan leather could be seen as a much more environmentally friendly option, it is usually made by bonding a plastic coating with a fabric backing. Reports state that “the majority of vegan leather made today uses polyurethane (PU), which comes from fossil fuels, and remains toxic.” However, major innovations in textile technology are currently working to fix this and come up with better alternatives. 

One option that has recently entered the market is an ethical and eco-friendly alternative that uses bananas. A startup company based on the island of Kosrae in Micronesia, called Green Banana Paper, has seen an opportunity in utilising the waste from banana trees. They have created the concept of up-cycling the material into fashionable and durable vegan leather wallets, after the company gathered funds on Kickstarter for the eco-friendly products, with an ultimate aim of  improving the lives of local famers. The maintenance of banana trees requires a lot of work, despite the fruit itself growing ready to eat. However, there are currently around 200,000 banana trees spread out around the island, meaning that the local farmers have to work hard to cut down the plant each and every year after harvesting, in order to ensure future fruit production.

After cutting down the harvested trees, there is a huge amount of banana fibre that gets wasted and is simply left on the ground to biodegrade. After recognizing this as an issue, the founder of Green Banana Paper, New England native Matt Simpson, decided to take advantage of the plentiful “rubbish” and turn it into something worthwhile and of value. The end result of utilizing this waste product is a strong and water-resistant wallet which boasts a design inspired by Micronesia’s people, coconut palms, and ocean life. The company explained, “Green Banana Paper wallets are not only eco-friendly; they are helping to provide a living wage to Kosraean families. Matt hopes to continue to scale up production, and get even more people on the island involved in this truly community-oriented business.”

The aim of the company is to raise enough funds through their Kickstarter to employ more people on the island, as well as refining the quality of their recycled products. They have also given an incentive, which states that anyone supporting the project will receive their own banana fiber wallet, which can be shipped around the world. The company added, “The raw materials are purchased from over 75 local farmers in the community – providing a new way to earn extra income. Making wallets from banana trees is labor intensive.  The making of each wallet involves 12 or more people.  By purchasing our wallets, our customers are helping provide creative and fulfilling work to members of our community.”

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