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My attitude towards leather and meat changed in the same way. In my early childhood when I learnt where they come from I just refused to eat meat and didn’t want to wear leather. Each time I was buying shoes I was asking a shop assistant whether they’re made of natural leather. Usually I received enthusiastic reassurance that of course they are. And I was done with shopping. Thank you very much, goodbye.

These days I know where I can buy faux leather shoes. But what concerns me is that it is believed faux leather is not environmentally friendly. Animals are always my priority, but I would like to avoid products that damage the environment. This is why I decided to investigate production processes of leather and pleather.

Leather tannery Fez, Morocco. Author: Bernard Gagnon.(Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported, 2.5 Generic, 2.0 Generic and 1.0 Generic license)
Leather tannery Fez, Morocco. Author: Bernard Gagnon.(Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported, 2.5 Generic, 2.0 Generic and 1.0 Generic license)

Natural leather

The environmental impact of natural leather production depends on the supply chain and each step of the manufacturing process. Leather that is sold in Europe usually comes from China, India, Brazil or Vietnam, where regulations on environment protection or animal welfare don’t exist or aren’t enforced. Despite protests of various NGOs, import of leather from China is growing.

We can imagine that changing animal skins into something durable that would not decompose quickly requires a lot of chemical activity. Animal hides are subject to procedures such as: degreasing, soaking, liming, unhairing and scudding, deliming and bating, pickling, stabilising, bleaching, impregnation. The process involves volatile organic compounds emissions. Also, 95 percent of the world’s tanneries use hexavalent chromium, a potent carcinogen, and other heavy metals which can leach into the groundwater. It’s harmful not only for the environment, but also for the consumers, because part of the chemicals stays in the material.

If someone really does not want to resign from natural lather they should consider buying products with IVN Natural Leather Standard certificate. It guarantees that the material was produced responsibly and covers the whole processing chain; husbandry, environmental and social impact.

However, I don’t buy even “eco” natural leather, because it is a by-product of meat industry and significantly increases its profitability.

My 100% polyurethane bag
My 100% polyurethane bag

Pleather

For a long time the most popular material used to make faux leather was non-biodegradable PVC. These days polyurethane becomes more common. Similarly like PVC it is made from fossil fuels, but the manufacturing process is less toxic. Still, during the production of polyurethane significant amount of carbon dioxide is released.

Pamela Anderson presents Pammies. Photo courtesy of Pammies Life Inc.
Pamela Anderson presents Pammies. Courtesy of Pammies Life Inc.
Products made of Pinatex. Author: Dominic Tschudin, courtesy of Ananas Anam
Products made of Pinatex. Author: Dominic Tschudin, courtesy of Ananas Anam

Green vegan leather

Luckily there are environmentally friendly leather alternatives that are made from biodegradable fibres or recycled materials.

Polylactic acid is a biodegradable polyester derived from renewable resources, such as corn starch, tapioca roots, chips or starch, or sugarcane. It is used in medicine in the form of anchors, screws, plates. Also, there are decomposable packaging materials, bottles, cups or even teabags made of PLA. It haven’t been used at large scale yet to make faux leather, but there are researches conducted to make it possible.

Dinamica, also known as faux suede, is made from 100 percent recycled PET and is said to produce 60 percent fewer carbon emissions than conventional polyester. It is used in automotive industry, for example by Jaguar & Mercedes-Benz as their car interiors. Beyond Skin uses this material to produce shoes.

This year Pamela Anderson launched a new footwear made of recycled electronic. Environmentally friendly and totally cruelty-free Pammies are inspired by her once-beloved (until she found out they are made of sheepskin) UGGs.

Another innovative material is Pinatex – made from the fibres of pineapple leaves which are a by-product of the pineapple harvest. 

I will follow those projects and write about them more in the future. And do you know what your bags and shoes are made of? Do you pay attention to it while shopping?

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