Many people don’t think twice about buying leather shoes, leather handbags, leather jackets and leather belts. Leather’s everywhere, and it’s easy to let this material slip into our closets without giving it a second thought.
But, we really should be giving leather a second thought. Why?
Because leather is really, really bad for the environment.
First, let’s start with the cow this leather is coming from. Raising cows is a very eco-intensive process. According to Treehugger, it takes 8 acres of land. 12,000 lbs. of forage, 125 gallons of gas, 2,500 lbs of corn, 350 lbs of soybeans, and 1.2 million gallons of water to raise one cow. And that doesn’t include the resources that are used to grow all that food. And, it doesn’t include the Co2 that cow will emit (through its manure) into the atmosphere.
This also doesn’t include the fact that a factory-farmed cow lives a miserable existence, standing in a dirty stall all day, pumped full of hormones, until it’s fat enough for slaughter. It’s never let outside to walk or feed normally.
So already, we’re in the hole here.
Over 60% of leather comes from the food industry. So when a cow is slaughtered for its beef, then its skin is sold to companies to be processed into leather. But it’s this process that is so damaging to the environment.
Skins must be dehaired, degreased, and desalted before it can be used for anything. This process takes anywhere from 6 hrs. to 2 days, and the chemicals that are used are very harsh. One chemical, pentachlorophenol, is used to prevent bacterial growth; this chemical is a known toxin to humans.
After this first stage the leather must be tanned using vegetables tannins or mineral tannins.
Vegetable tanning, as you can imagine, is the more “eco friendly” process. This process uses natural tannins from bark from the oak, chestnut, hemlock and mangrove trees.
Mineral tanning, on the other hand, is awful. This process primarily uses chromium, which is a known carcinogen to humans. It’s not good for us to have this chemical against our skin all day, and it’s certainly not good for the workers in these leather factories, who must breathe this harsh chemical all day.
On the whole, leather is a material we should try to avoid. Eco friendly fabrics like hemp, bamboo, tencil, organic cotton and jute are so much better for us and the environment!