Cow Dung could be a future fabric choice according to one Dutch startup, which is extracting cellulose from cowpats to make “manure couture”. Jalila Essaïdi believes that a non-vegan future will involve recycling cow manure into cellulose fibre, bioplastics, chemical concentrates and pure water – and being less squeamish about it, too.
“Like a lasagne of manure, you need to make something out of it,” she says. “We see manure as a waste material, something disgusting and smelly. But oil [used to make fibre] isn’t clean and beautiful at the beginning. You really have to show people the hidden beauty if you transform this cellulose.”
Essaïdi, who is working with 15 farmers in Eindhoven to create an industrial-scale manure refinery this year, has already won awards for her innovation including $200,000 from the Chivas Venture and an H&M Foundation Global Change award.
“The process is chemical and mechanical,” she explains, having run trials to create a fashion show in 2016. “When you collect manure, it’s a combination of urine and cow poop, 80% water. We separate the dry and wet fraction. The wet fraction is fermented and we [extract] solvents to transform the cellulose, which is nothing other than the grass and corn the cows eat.
The Dutch government’s environmental agency estimates 30%-40% of the country’s 76bn annual kilos of manure enters a black market of illegal waste, secretly traded or spread on the land at night to avoid fines for overproduction.