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Did you know the fashion industry is slowly killing our planet? Fashion contributes to roughly 10% of global carbon dioxide emissions, and many of the clothes we wear (about 60%) are made from plastic, which — dun dun dun — never fully decomposes. Plastic gets dumped in landfills, and eventually makes its way to our oceans where it causes pollution and wreaks havoc on marine life. 

To combat this trend, Alt Tex, a Toronto-based startup, came up with what it calls a "radical" idea: Turning food waste into fabrics. Launched in 2020 by co-founders Myra Arshad and Avneet Ghotra, along with 15 researchers, the company aims to harness the power of waste to promote eco-friendliness and biodegradability. 

How Does It Work?

Using advanced technology, Alt Tex collects food waste destined to rot in landfills and combines it with microbes to trigger a fermentation process. The fermented material is then transformed into polymers with select additives to create a durable resin. The resin is melted, compressed, and extruded into fibers using traditional polyester machinery. Finally, these fibers are spun into yarn and woven or knitted to create different types of fabrics.

According to Alt Tex, the advantages of its fabrics are manifold, including: 

  • Promotes Sustainability: Sustainable fashion is growing at a rate of 11% CAGR (compound annual growth rate), according to Y Combinator. For fashion brands, having a sustainable edge can help them meet target goals without compromising on performance, style, and supply chains. 

  • Lower Overheard Costs: Consumers can reap the benefits of sustainability at half the cost of other specialized sustainable alternatives, thanks to low-cost inputs and scalability to promote accessibility. 

  • A Win for the Planet: When more brands focus on reducing plastic use, the environment also benefits. A single shirt made from Alt Tex fabric can divert a little over two pounds of food waste, eliminate almost 20 pounds of carbon emissions from the air, and prevent four grams of micro-plastics from entering our waterways.

Alt Tex has also set lofty goals for itself by aiming to divert 150,000 tons of food waste and curb 750 tons of greenhouse gas emissions every year. After securing $1.3 million in pre-seed funding, the startup is now looking to partner with brands and food waste suppliers to boost its scale. Don't get your credit card ready just yet — while the company "is working to commercialize over the next couple years," it currently doesn't offer a product to consumers. 

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Sewing thread cones at a fashion atelierPhoto credit: Hispanolistic/istockphoto

How Much Food Is Wasted Every Year?

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), between 30-40% of food goes to waste in the United States every year. In 2010, this translated to nearly 133 billion pounds and $161 billion worth of uneaten meals. 

The amount of food waste has far-reaching implications, says the USDA, including: 

  • Wholesome food, which could have been used to feed families in need, is ending up in landfills where it creates pollution.
  • The entire process of food production — from cultivation and processing to transportation, preparation, storage, and eventual disposal — uses significant resources such as land, water, labor, and energy.

Across the world, more than one-third of all food produced — approximately 2.5 billion tons — never reaches our plates and ends up being discarded or lost. Astonishingly, a third of this waste occurs during the very stage of food production itself. According to the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) the value of wasted food is projected to be around $230 billion every year.

While we're in the business of big numbers, the global polyester market is projected to reach $164.3 billion by 2027, so companies like Alt Tex have a lot of work to do. Furthermore, the average consumer is buying 60% more clothes compared to 15 years ago, but the items are only kept for half as long — making it more important for clothing brands to uphold ethical and sustainable practices.

The Bottom Line

The next time you pull on your favorite sweater, just imagine if it was crafted with fabrics made from your leftovers. In an era of growing wastefulness, we need more companies like Alt Tex that prioritize a healthier, cleaner, and less wasteful planet. Now that's what we call "fashion forward."

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