Sustainability is a wide field and open to be defined- everyone understands what she or he wants and no clear definition is out there. But what we might all agree on is that we are looking for a better, greener and more sustainable way to consume and to live. It got important what we eat and where it comes from. We care about how things are made and their origin. And we might try to find out more about materials. But let’s face it, there are a lot of things out there which are still not clear and hard to understand- we get you!

This for we want to help to get things a bit clearer and explain the best, based on neutral sources, what the words behind something mean and what to understand from it. To start: What is recycled leather and is it more sustainable?

Leather in general

Leather is the skin of animals, treated, tanned and transformed to make clothes or accessories, car seats or sofas, handbags or shoes out of it, just to name some. It has a long tradition as animal skins have been used since human race exists to protect from the cold, to dress up or for comfort. In the beginning leather was a bi-product of hunting and killing an animal. As time went by, it became a good itself which can value pretty high and which leads to animal breading without interest in the meat.

Leather is never vegan. It is always made of animals, might it be a cow, a goat, a crocodile or another animal.

Leather is very strong and long-lasting. You might still own a purse in leather from your grandma or a jacket from younger years and both are probably still in a good shape.

Leather can be vegetable or chrome tanned. The animal skin needs to be treated (with salt or chemically) to avoid biodegradation. Following leather needs to be tanned with chemical chrome or on a vegetable base – there are arguments for and against both methods, but this would be a different topic.

Pollution of the leather industry

The demand for leather is steadily growing and so it the production. But this has a price and the price is high. It starts with land needed to raise cattle. Leather is no by-product of the meat industry but demands space for the animals and leads to deforestation as seen 2019 in the Amazon area. 80% of all fires caused in Brazil since 1988 are linked to conversion into cattle pastures.

Further leather needs to be tanned (with chrome or vegetable) to be preserved. This process avoids the biodegradation of the material but uses an immense amount of water. 90% of the industry still uses chrome tanning.  Chemicals are released with this process as well.

Water usage is huge with around 40 to 45 litres per kilo of leather used when tanned. Often tanning is done in India or other countries where this water is rejected without filtering.

Recycled leather – how it is made

Recyc Leather is the specialist for recycled leather. They are using old products but mainly shreds and leftover from the leather industry to make new products.

The leather is shredded in a powder which is mixed with natural latex. A new kind of leather or tissue will be created in next step which last needs a coating. Information of how the coating is composed, what it contains etc. is not displayed.

The result contains 60% leather, 30 % natural fibres like latex for the glue and 10% synthetic for the coating.

Touch and look

The look of recycled leather and the touch as well is really close to new leather. (We have seen the material on the Premiere Vision show in Paris 2020.) Further it is possible to use patterns which make the leather look like exotic leather without being it. This is a good alternative to new leather.

The question of sustainability

So is recycled leather more sustainable? Yes it is. Better to use leftovers than new raw materials. Reducing waste is definitely a good idea. Latex rubber glue is a good idea as well.

But what for sure stays a problem is that the product is neither vegan nor biodegradable. Leather is tanned and the left over pieces are as well. Further a new coating is added which probably will contain PU or other chemicals.

We would be happy to know more about the coating used and the question what to do with articles of recycled leather after usage. Is there a chance to recycle (attention recycling is not the best solution as we explained in our blog earlier)? Or can recycled leather be shredded again and again?

Further keep in mind that recycling can sound like the approval to pollute. Means, that only because leftovers from the leather industry are used the industry does not become more sustainable. And you should not validate your leather purchase by telling yourself that it can be recycled later on.

What we believe though is that “no leather” is the best choice. Better than killing animals is to use plant base materials as cotton, linen or cork. Materials with low impact on nature and none on animals. Further best to choose materials which can biodegrade after usage as they do not contain chemicals or PU.

If you want leather, look for brands using recycled leather. But still ask questions on how it was made.