Although most people consider leather a co-product or by-product of the meat industry, when we talk about the environmental impact of leather, we cannot ignore the effects that excessive rearing of livestock has on our planet.
We created Leap to change the leather industry for the better. Why does the leather industry need to change?
Because leather-making not only hurts animals but people and the planet too. It’s an unsustainable practice that plays a big role in turning the fashion industry into a polluting mess with little to no transparency.
Did you know that the Higg Materials Sustainability Index* considers bovine leather to have “the biggest cradle to gate environmental impact” compared to materials like silk, cotton, or even plastic-based materials like synthetic leather and polyester? This negative effect is a result of eutrophication (causing water to become excessively rich in nutrients which leads to the growth of plant life and death of animal life from lack of oxygen), emission of greenhouse gases, and wasting and contaminating water resources. This happens, when we don’t use our resources in a good way and we disregard our environment.
Although most people consider leather a co-product or by-product of the meat industry, when we talk about the environmental impact of leather, we cannot ignore the effects that excessive rearing of livestock has on our planet. Some of these effects are deforestation, land and water overuse, and gas emissions that all add to global warming.
However, the most polluting part of leather processing - without a doubt - is tanning. Traditional tanning processes are using toxic chemicals as chromium, lead, arsenic, and acids. These harmful and often carcinogenic chemicals end up in local waterways through the extreme amount of wastewater that tanneries release back into nature. This is dangerous not only to the environment but to humans as well. It affects tannery workers’ health and endangers local communities by contaminating their water sources. Adding to the number of chemicals used in leather production, they also use pesticides for hide conservation during transport.
Many tanners argue that these outdated traditions are painting a worse picture of the leather industry than reality is. In Europe and in the United States the use of dangerous chemicals is heavily regulated and thanks to a more sustainable mindset, some of the tanners use vegetable tanning to avoid harmful chemicals, or dry tanning to stop the unnecessary waste of water. However, in developing countries, traditional tanning is very much present and there are no regulations to protect the people and the environment.
“The most polluting part of leather processing - without a doubt - is tanning.“
Leather products are known for their durability and long lifetime, but the chemical treatments during production affect the end-of-life of the material as well. They make the leather resistant to chemical, thermal, and microbiological degradation and basically make tanned leather non-biodegradable.
The list of problems with traditional leather production is long, and although there are efforts to move it into a more sustainable direction, leather production - on the current scale - will never be sustainable.
It’s time to take a Leap into a fresh start and begin to use truly sustainable plant-based alternatives.