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Venice Parnell

8th Grade, The Harker School
San Jose, CA

Venice and her teammate Claire Xu tested different produce fibers (pineapple, mango, avocado and celery) combined with recycled paper to create a leather alternative.

The Future of Fashion and Functionality: Transforming Produce Waste and Lignocellulosic Fibers Into Sustainable Vegan Leather


Project Background

While surveying her house, Venice noticed that several items were made of leather. But, she says, “after researching online, I became aware of the harmful impact of cow leather.” Venice also learned that many vegan leathers do not break down easily in the environment, and their production requires fossil fuels. She and her teammate, Claire Xu, decided to explore whether food scraps could be used to make an all-natural leather alternative. “I could address not only the environmental impact of leather production but also contribute to reducing food waste,” Venice says.

Tactics and Results

Venice and Claire explored leather made with four different high-fiber produce items: pineapple, mango, celery and avocado. They combined the fresh produce fibers with other materials including beeswax, glycerin and various amounts of recycled paper. The paper added processed fibers. After mixing the materials together, the students baked each leather sheet in an oven until dry. When finished, Claire and Venice measured the leathers’ thickness and tested how much weight it could hold. They also tested each material’s ability to repel water by examining a water droplet’s shape when placed on the leather. Based on these measurements, the duo found that vegan leather made with celery performed the best overall. It had the smoothest texture, too. They also found that the best ratio of fibers was three parts produce fibers to four parts recycled fibers. The celery leather made with this fiber ratio repelled water better than real leather and was almost as strong. Using this vegan leather prototype, Claire and Venice crafted jewelry, wallets and even the roof of a cat house. “By replacing leather products in the current market with celery leather, we can tap into the growing demand for sustainable and cruelty-free alternatives,” Venice says.

2023 Thermo Fisher JIC Finalist Venice Parnell

Beyond the Project

Venice wants to test different fiber rations of types of produce, such as broccoli stems add citrus rinds. She would also like to make the vegan leather last longer by reducing its moisture content with sealants.

Other interests

Venice enjoys playing piano and flute. One memorable moment was performing “The March of the Nutcracker” with an orchestra. “I’m invigorated by the harmonious blend of instruments and the shared passion of my fellow musicians,” she says. “The feeling of collaborating and unity is indescribable.” Venice would like to become a veterinarian in the future.

2023 Thermo Fisher JIC Finalist Venice Parnell