In cases where skins and hides from farming are not used they are sent to landfill..
“Modern leather manufacturing recycles around 270 million cowhides a year, around 7.3 million tonnes, that might otherwise go to waste and landfill sites, posing a huge environmental and biological problem. Modern leather manufacturing is safe, compliant and very regulated.”*
In terms of managing the resources of planet this would be a wasted opportunity, when the leather made from these skins and hides has so many positive attributes.
There are tanneries now, especially those under EU legislation, where the limitation of environmental impact is so integrated into each process that even every bit of water is recycled, and any waste products from tanning processes are safely re-used as fertiliser. It is interesting to note here that in this context there is now little difference between mineral/chrome tanned and vegetable tanned leathers in terms of impact.
If you want to find out more about the processes and how leather is made follow this link: https://www.leathernaturally.org/Education/Fact-Sheets/Manufacturing
There is no comparable alternative
Despite modern advances in production and technology there is no comparable substitute for leather that bears the same properties, sustainability and natural magic.
Alternatives that are marketed as ‘substitutes’ often come with misleading labels such as ‘vegan leather’, faux leather’ or ‘pleather’ and, are for the most part, polyurethane, a plastic derivative. There are alternatives coming through made with biodegradable materials such as cork, mushroom, pineapple leaves, though at present many of these alternatives don’t have acceptable aesthetics or stand the test of time in terms of longevity and durability.
There is an argument that because of this they suit the need for fast fashion which uses more resources than one well item that cared for, will last a life time, ie slow fashion. It is for these reasons that leather industries in the UK, Europe and China particularly, are pushing hard to ensure that products are correctly labelled which means not using the term “leather” where is does not meet the definition of ‘the skin or hide of an animal.’
To read more about these campaigns go to https://leatheruk.org/labelling-leather-legislation/
Compassion in World Farming – setting ethics for outdoor life, transport etc for farm animal welfare…
It is wrong of us to ignore the role the animal plays in the making of leather. As with any industry there are good and bad practices in agriculture. The relationship between leather and small, careful farming and animal husbandry can be hugely beneficial for animal care – from adding value to the end life of the animal, meeting the recommended outdoor days, to a reduction in the use of barbed wire. Making this connection stronger can only benefit the care of, and value placed on animal care. For more information check out the work of Compassion in World Farming.
From an environmental perspective it is worth noting that there is a big difference between small scale outdoor farming and mass indoor intensive farms, both in terms of animal welfare and methane. Outdoor grass fed animals are likely to have a higher fibre content diet than those on a processed food diet that requires crop plants, additional water and resources. Grass fed animals also leave the root structure of the soil intact which in turn keeps the carbon content in the soil, rather than ploughing and re-planting crops purely for animal feed.
*source – Leather Naturally