Leather is a strong, flexible and durable material obtained from the tanning, or chemical treatment, of animal skins and hides to prevent decay. The most common leathers come from cattle, sheep, goats, equine animals, buffalo, pigs, and aquatic animals such as alligators.
Where it grows / Where it is made
Top countries (2016): China - Italy - Vietnam - France - Indonesia
Leather can be used to make a variety of items, including clothing, footwear, handbags, furniture, tools and sports equipment.
Impact on the environment
Aside from the obvious issues with animal welfare, leather production has negative impacts on the environment and workers, too.
It requires more water and land than almost any other material, and the tanning process involves extremely harmful chemicals like chromium 6 that end up in waterways and labourers’ bodies.
Vegetable tanning, which has long been considered the sustainable option for tanning, is under scrutiny about how sustainable it really is. It’s a bit better, but likely not as good as previously thought.
More sustainable alternatives
Pinatex fabric, cork, recycled rubber.
End of life possibilities
Leather biodegrades slowly—taking 25 to 40 years to decompose.
There are many innovative materials emerging designed to mimic the qualities of leather, from pineapple leather to cork to upcycled rubber.
While the full environmental impact of these new materials has not been fully assessed, they are certainly preferable to “faux leather” made from PVC, or likely the more common vegan or “faux” leather made from PU.
While PU has significant environmental impact, it’s a better option than other synthetics.