- Leather is the backbone for many economies and is commonly used in clothing and consumer goods due to its durable and long-lasting quality. However, the leather industry can be problematic in multiple ways, primarily causing concerns surrounding animal welfare and pollution as a result of the heavily processed manufacturing associated with production. Leather requires immense amounts of environmental resources including feed, land, water, and fossil fuels, and is acknowledged by the EPA as one of the biggest contaminants to earth's waterways. Chemicals needed for leather processing are harsh and environmentally jeopardizing, using mineral salts, coal and tar derivatives, formaldehyde, and cyanide-based finishes. US manufactured leather is no exception, as chrome-based finishes are commonly used, an extremely hazardous material. These chemicals also can be cancerous causing, putting not only worker health at risk but also those who live near tanneries. The nature of tanning stops the skin from biodegrading, making leather extremely hard and practically impossible to recycle.
- Cattle ranching is a leading cause of Amazonian deforestation, causing habitat loss and consequently biodiversity reduction, and also emits dangerous levels of methane and nitrous oxide. Leather also inevitably demands the loss of animal lives, which calls into question the ethics behind slaughterhouses and animal rights. It is important to note that the leather and meat industry are separate, and leather is very rarely a by-product of animals already being slaughtered for food, creating immense amounts of additional waste such as hair, trimmings, flesh, and nails that are not used for hides, contributing to landfill waste.
- It is also imperative to note that some leather sources actually aren’t from cows, and are sourced from domesticated animals such as dogs and cats.
- When shopping for leather goods, consider buying vintage or secondhand items, extending the life cycle for the product as well as decreasing the need for ongoing farming and manufacturing processes. Some companies source leather that does come directly as by-products from the meat industry, which slightly minimizes environmental impact but still poses ethical qualms. Consider choosing cruelty-free alternatives, as many synthetic leather products share strikingly similar qualities authentic leather products have. Recent innovations use more environmentally friendly materials such as pineapple leaves, cork, apple peels, and even recycled water bottles.