Due to its environmental impact, people are becoming more aware of the harmful effects of the multi-billion dollar leather goods industry.
The process of preserving and finishing leather involves cleaning and treating the hide of an animal. It is then subjected to various treatments and colors to create a unique feel and appearance.
In 2020, the demand for belts and bags grew the most in the global leather goods market. Over half of the world’s raw leather supply comes from developing regions such as Asia, Latin America, and Africa. China, the world’s largest leather producer and processor, is expected to continue leading the way in this industry.
The material is just as popular worldwide as it is damaging to the environment. What was once a statement of luxury and grandeur, the material now makes wearers the subject of criticism for their ignorance of its environmental impact.
Here, we dive deep into how leather products affect the environment and sustainable alternatives you should adopt instead.
The Environmental Cost Of Leather
The production of leather is linked to various sustainability issues, especially due to how it is a byproduct of the meat industry. The extensive rearing of livestock has a wide range of negative impacts on the environment, including deforestation, land overuse, and greenhouse emissions. The clearing of the Amazon for cattle grazing is also contributing to climate change.
According to the Higg Materials Sustainability Index, which measures the impact of leathers up to the fabrication stage, most of it has an impact of 159, which is significantly higher than that of cotton and polyester.
The process of tanning is the most toxic part of the leather production process, involving using chromium tanning to prevent the hide from decomposing. This process is carried out through the use of drums of water, chromium salts, and tanning liquor.
It produces a slush of gases and chemicals, which include carcinogenic chromium. Because of this, the strict regulations imposed on it have forced the closure of several tanneries in Europe and the US. According to the EPA, factory farms contribute 70% of water pollution in the US. The wastewater from these facilities often ends up in local waterways.
Workers in the leather industry, including children as young as 10, are at risk of suffering from the effects of exposure to toxic chemicals. Some of the acute effects of these substances include skin reactions, throat irritation, and kidney or liver damage.
Sustainable Alternatives to Leather
Although polyurethane has existed for a long time, its use has become more prevalent. Despite its better score on the Higg Index, disposal of this material poses a threat to the environment. Currently, various groups are working on developing sustainable alternatives to leather. These include high-grade synthetic leathers and suedes that are made from recycled polyester.
Some natural leather alternatives being tested for use in various applications include cork and bark fiber. They can also be reinforced using polymers from seaweed, grapes, and pineapple.
How Free of Fear Contributes to Sustainable Alternatives
Free of Fear is proud to incorporate style with sustainability through our line of belts and handbags made from 100% decommissioned fire hoses. Combining a stylish bright yellow hue reflected in all our products allows you to make an unforgettable statement through our trendy, durable, and sustainable bags and belts made from fire hoses.
See our products here or contact us for more information!