Sugarcane bagasse to vegan leather: Innovation to help increase income for sugarcane farmers

In a significant development for the sugar industry and sugarcane farmers, bagasse, a byproduct of sugar production, is now being utilized to produce vegan leather. This innovative approach not only addresses environmental concerns but also opens up new avenues for revenue generation.

India’s vast sugarcane production could effectively utilize sugarcane waste through technology developed by PA Footwear P Ltd, a company specializing in vegan leather alternatives. Emphasizing how sugarcane bagasse can be useful for the industry and farmers, Chinnasami Anbumalar, Vice Chairman of PA Footwear Ltd, said, “In sugar mills, it is occasionally used to generate electricity. Farmers use it when producing jaggery in temporary crushing units installed in their fields. In both scenarios, excess bagasse is often burned in the fields, leading to waste. By purchasing a portion of this surplus material, we can prevent it from being burned and provide farmers with an additional source of income, resulting in a marginal increase in their earnings.”

Speaking about other products in the pipeline from sugarcane, he added, “The National Institute for Interdisciplinary Science and Technology (NIIST), Thiruvananthapuram, a constituent laboratory of CSIR (CSIR-NIIST), has already transferred technology for making disposable cutlery from sugarcane bagasse.”

The demand for vegan leather made from sugarcane seems to be growing. Anbumalar noted, “There has been a general interest in evaluating vegan sugarcane sheets for all kind of products like shoes, sandals, bags, belts and mobile pouches. PA Footwear and Ortholite have joined forces, crafting foot-bed and insole innovations with vegan and recycled materials. Incorporating VeganVirya, a 95% plant-based material, they stride toward sustainable footwear. This collaboration marries innovation and eco-consciousness, paving the way for a greener future in footwear manufacturing.”

Animal rights group PETA India emphasized that India’s leading position as a major global sugarcane producer presents ample opportunities for expanding the use of sugarcane-based vegan leather. PETA India also plays a significant role in promoting sugarcane-based vegan leather.

In a statement, PETA India said, “Globally, brands are increasingly adopting vegan materials across a range of products from shoes to cars. The Material Innovation Initiative’s report, “Brand Engagement with Next-Gen Materials 2023,” highlights numerous collaborations between innovative vegan material companies and brands in apparel, accessories, footwear, automotive, and home goods sectors. Prominent celebrities such as Sunny Leone, Dia Mirza, Sonakshi Sinha, Jacqueline Fernandez, and Milind Soman have appeared in PETA India campaigns advocating for vegan fashion. The “PETA-Approved Vegan” (PAV) certification is proudly used by over 1000 brands including Allen Solly, Virgio, IMARS Fashion, The CAI Store and more to promote handbags, shoes, clothing, accessories, furniture, and home decor items made from vegan materials instead of animal-derived ones like leather, silk, wool, fur, and feathers. Brands that obtain certifications demonstrate their commitment to ethics, animal compassion, and sustainable production.”

“PETA is celebrating the innovation of vegan leather material from sugarcane crop by National Institute for Interdisciplinary Science and Technology (NIIST) and P A Footwear that signals tremendous opportunity in the vegan leather market. The Central Leather Research Institute in Chennai received an award from PETA India for creating leather from mangoes. The NIIST also developed vegan leather from agricultural waste.” it further added.

By converting bagasse into sustainable vegan leather, manufacturer is contributing to the circular economy while meeting the growing demand for eco-friendly alternatives to traditional leather. This initiative is poised to enhance the income opportunities for sugarcane farmers and bolster the economic sustainability of the sugar industry, aligning with global trends towards sustainable practices and reducing environmental impact.

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