Innovation and the Philippines — How “Pinyapel” can show the way

Published December 1, 2019, 7:32 PM

by Francine Ciasico


Senator Sonny Angara



Aside from being a delicious food source, the pineapple has a unique place in Philippine tradition. For one, there’s the origin myth of how the fruit used to be a girl who loved to procrastinate and not look for things—hence its thousand eyes.

Pineapple leaves are also the source for piña fabric, often used for Barong Tagalogs and other forms of formal wear. Extracting the needed stiff fibers from the leaves is a labor-intensive process, but from this comes what has been called the “queen of Philippine fabrics.” Thankfully, as of February, 2018, the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCAA) began organizing stakeholders so that piña production will be included in the Intangible Cultural Heritage of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

There’s more: our country’s love affair with the pineapple has now reached a new level, so to speak, with the production of “pinyapel.” It is a specialty reinforced paper developed by the Design Center of the Philippines’ Materials Research and Development, in conjunction with local raw material suppliers and converters. It is print-viable, and can be used for some packaging applications such as gift bags, paper cup sleeves, and corrugated paper. It is produced from discarded pineapple leaves which go through a pulping process. Reinforcing solutions are then added to improve the pinyapel’s mechanical properties. After the pinyapel products are discarded, they can be used again as raw materials, in turn, for brown bags and cardboard products.

Pinyapel has already won a Wood Pencil at the 2019 Design & Art Direction (D&AD) Future Impact Awards in New York City, because of its potential for a positive effect on the environment and overall sustainability. Specifically, it can be used as an alternative to single-use plastic in food packaging. It will also be placed on the D&AD Future Impact Accelerator program, which will hasten development so that the material can be rolled out with tangible results within a year. Winning the award also attracts the eyes of creatives and investors.

The Design Center began with the idea of maximizing agricultural waste, with the intent of offering profits for the farmers, making efficient use of natural resources, coming up with an alternative to plastics, and finally, collaborating with stakeholders to come up with a material that creatives and designers can use. It is a very good local example of how our local knowhow in using pineapple leaves was developed and extended into a new production space, that of recyclable materials—and even better, a recycled material that can be recycled one more time after its use.

It is hard to imagine how our knowledge of using pineapple leaves for a luxurious fabric for barongs could have been applied in another way to produce a replacement for single-use plastics, but that is innovation—to come up with new ideas and to see them come to life. In this case, our national knowledge of pineapple-based fabric allowed us to think of how to use pineapple leaves in a new and environmentally meaningful way.

To put it in perspective, the United Nations Environment Programme estimates that single-use plastics make up 36% of more than 400 million tons of plastic produced every year. If pinyapel can make meaningful inroads into lowering single-plastic use, either as an alternative product or as an inspiration to create more alternatives, then not only has our country improved itself, it is also helping address a serious global concern.

This, too, is the essence of our Tatak Pinoy initiative. Pinyapel highlights the ingenuity, creativity, and capacity for innovation of the Filipino. It has the potential to create a global demand for a Filipino product. If the industrial push is successful, it could improve the company’s economic productivity and competitiveness, and may address in part, poverty and inequality through the generation of jobs.

As I have said before, we have a wealth of resources that have yet to be tapped or fully utilized. We just have to innovate and promote our products and services to the world. I fully encourage that all stakeholders in various provinces talk about how local resources can be seen in a new light, and how the process of innovation and new production techniques can be applied to create improved products, or utterly new ones. In doing this, the country can move forward to address the challenge of becoming a larger presence in the global economy.

E-mail: [email protected]| Facebook, Twitter & Instagram: @sonnyangara
Senator Sonny Angara has been in public service for 15 years—9 years as Representative of the Lone District of Aurora, and 6 as Senator. He has authored and sponsored more than 200 laws. He recently won another term in the Senate.