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Is Leather Biodegradable? (A Must Know!)

I bet you’re a very conscious person who truly cares about the environment and as a leather user, I guess you’ve wondered to yourself if the leather items you use are biodegradable. It has been something I have been curious about for a very long time but over the summer I did some research on it and here’s all I found.

So, is leather biodegradable? Yes, Natural leather is biodegradable because it is essentially made of collagen cells from the skin of animals that have been treated by way of tanning to slow down or stop the decay process but will eventually decompose if it is not cared for or intentionally made to rot.

So, what makes natural leather biodegradable and can that be said for all kinds of leather? You would want to keep reading to find out more.

What Makes Natural Leather Biodegradeable?

Generally, although natural leather is biodegradable, it can take 25-50 years to decompose due to the tanning materials used. Natural Leather will certainly decompose into powder much faster if left in wet or damp conditions like a cellar floor or buried in the soil.

So clearly the decomposition of natural leather depends on the kinds of environmental elements it is exposed to such as UV rays, oxygen levels, and microbial environment.

If natural leather is tanned sufficiently well and kept in conditions not conducive to rot, leather can last very long. Natural leather items have found in graves near the Mediterranean and Scythian by archeologists which are said to be over 2500 years old.

With a lot of leather items surviving, there is clear evidence that other types of natural leather might have decomposed leaving behind rusted metal parts.

Leather being able to last all that while was due to the fact that they were somehow preserved at relatively dry sites with under 50% relative humidity and low oxygen.

Another factor is that in the 19th century, leather was mainly tanned using the vegetable tanning method which made leather from that era more durable compared to preceding years.

Today, most natural leather is mineral or chemical tanned making it last longer with a prolonged biodegradability.

Is Synthetic Leather also Biodegradeable?

Man-made leather often marketed in the name pleather, leatherette, or synthetic or vegan leather, like natural leather is biodegradable but takes much longer time to degrade due to the fact that it is made from polyvinyl chloride (PVC), cork, cotton, or Polyurethane (PU).

You will find that although we can say both natural and synthetic leather decomposes, it will take over 50 decades for synthetic leather to biodegrade, break down to and return to the earth.

Other synthetic materials used as an alternative to natural leather that isn’t UV stabilized might break down quickly.

When you go on shopping today for bags, shoes, etc, you will find that most items are made from synthetic leather. The marketing strategy often used for synthetic leather items is of an ethical and environmentally conscious standpoint.

However, synthetic leather or vegan leather as popularly called are commonly produced with polyvinyl chloride and polyurethane materials. Both chemicals serve as good alternatives but are criticized for their carbon-intensive footprint and lack adequate biodegradability.

Many fans of non-animals product propagate their agenda on not using product made from animal sources but might be totally blindsided to the fact that synthetic leather is actually more hazardous.

So, although natural leather has its stricks to mother earth, is present a much better option in specific reference to biodegradability.

Leather Production and Biodegradability

The production of natural leather by chemical methods like chrome tanning makes use of highly toxic substances that can predispose workers of the leather production company and the end-user to some terrible side effects.

Its tanning process has been heavily criticized for the use of chemicals such as coal-tar derivatives, formaldehyde, and water pollutants.

Water waste from such leather tanneries if not properly processed can find its way to the general public and cause havoc.

Environmentalists have more concern for synthetic leather compared to natural leather products. During the production of synthetic leather, PVCs used release chlorine gas and dioxins during the combustion and incineration cycles necessary for production.

The process for making vegan leather is also heavily dependant on the petroleum industry and such petroleum materials can find its way into the soil as the item slowly biodegrades.

Natural leather is not totally on the clear here because leatherwork still requires adhesive and such adhesives are often of plastic-based which are made using fossil fuels.

The polyurethane is more common and a much better alternative material to an extent although not a biodegradable material.

Biodegradable Leather Or Vegan Leather

1. Pineapple Leather – Pinatex

A new organic form of synthetic leather made from pineapple leaves popularly marketed as Pinatex is gaining traction in the leather and fashion industry.

It weighs about a quarter of what natural leather weighs with beautiful textures and colors. It is soft, durable, pliable and very easy to take care of.

It is made without the need for any additional water, pesticides, fertilizer. The leaves as a byproduct of a pineapple farm. Bags, shoes and other items are on the market today made from pineapple leaves and are making great sales because they are more environmentally friendly and biodegradable.

If you’re interested, you can have a look at some awesome pineapple leather products here on Amazon!

2. Apple Leather

Regular apples are also being explored for leather. Although we are used to fruit-based material like banana peels, pineapple, and orange peels, apple for leather is breathtaking.

It is exceptionally thrilling that biodegradable and environmentally friendly innovations are worked on the gems of this world.

The can be used to make highly sustainable leather products like bags, wallets, wristlets, etc. 

3. Lab-Grown Leather

There is also the development of lab-grown leather and cell-cultured meat as an alternative for real leather and the meat industry to avoid the growing and killing of animals. Another aim is to have leather engineered to be the ultimate biodegradable environmentally friendly material.

A New Jersey-based lab Modern Meadow is one of such companies exploring the growth of a sheet of collagen proteins that form the basis for the leather material. The company is working hard to bring its bio-fabricated material to the market place in no time.

4. MuSkin

Muskin leather is an innovation that comes from mushrooms.  MuSkin is essentially a mushroom that is grown into the shape of the leather hide.

The MuSkin grows really fast. You can have an inch in 1 week, 2 by 3 sections in a month, and a full cowhide size in a little over 2 months.

To create a MuSkin, the desired shape and size of mushrooms are removed from mushroom caps and then tanned using all-natural non-toxic chemical-free substances.

Due to its chemical-free nature, it is great for products that have direct contact with our skin like hats, wristlets, watch straps, and many more.

It is superb at stopping the growth of bacteria and has a very strong absorption capacity. Any of the price exotic leather on the market can be mimicked using muskin.

Some of the characteristics of Muskin Leather is that it is very soft, breathable, water-repellent, and 100% biodegradable.

Conclusion

To conclude, leather is indeed biodegradable but the issue is how long it takes to biodegrade depends largely on how the leather is tanned and the environmental condition the leather is left it. Most modern leather innovations are engineered to be %100 biodegradable compared to conventional animal leather.

Related Questions

Is leather Breathable? Yes! Leather is a highly porous material and as such its breathability is one of leather’s special properties. Leather is able to release and take in moisture and vapor through its pores. The breathability of the leather, however, depends on the type of leather.

How can leather be Biodegraded quickly? To biodegrade leather quickly, you would have to remove all metal finding such as eyelets, rivets, etc, and cut the leather into pieces and bury it in the soil.

You will also find that others do this process in a more natural way. For example, people commonly put soil in an old leather shoe or bag and then plant some flowers in it.

Macwilliam K. Appianing

Hi! I’m Macwilliam, the owner and founder of Favored Leather. I’m a huge Leatherwork enthusiast and I’ve been that for almost 13 years now. I'm excited to share my experiences and all the new stuff I learn each day!

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