Leather is often thought of as natural, sustainable material that is high-end, luxurious and long lasting.
That said, what many people don't know is that the production of leather is extremely harmful to the environment.
Whilst leather is often associated with being a bi-product of the meat industry (which remains a matter of opinion) we cannot ignore that 25% of global land use, land-use change and forestry emissions are driven by beef production, including conversion of forests in the Brazilian Amazon. - Source: WWF
In this blog, we'll take a closer look at the toxic truth about leather and why alternatives have been favoured by handbag designers like myself.
The Dangers of Leather Production
Leather production is inherently dangerous for both the animals and the workers. The animals are often kept in inhumane conditions, and they are likely to be subjected to cruel treatment. The workers may be exposed to hazardous materials, and they may be at risk of occupational injuries. Leather may be a popular material in the luxury and fast-fashion industry for clothing and accessories, but it comes at a high cost.
To make leather from the skin of animals, a tannery will process the skin so that it becomes durable (and dyed a certain colour) - during that process, many harmful chemicals are used that are toxic to workers, and when not disposed of correctly can end up polluting the environment and waterways killing wildlife. It can also displace local communities who cannot use their local water and are forced to walk miles to access freshwater. Some of these chemicals can cause occupational injuries, including respiratory problems and skin irritation.
In short, it’s pretty toxic.
The Environmental Impact of Leather Production
The big argument we often hear is that cattle farming itself, has a massive contribution to climate change, the animals release high amounts of methane (carbon dioxide) into the atmosphere. The production of leather requires the use of a large number of resources, including water, land, and energy. Leather production has an unarguable environmental impact, both in terms of the resources used and the emissions generated. Leather is a byproduct of Cattle farming, which is linked to deforestation. There are far too many man-made forest fires purposely created to clear land for cattle farmers, which is one of the alarming issues threatening the Amazon.
Alternatives to Leather
There are many alternatives to leather, including synthetic materials like polyurethane, which are often considered more environmentally friendly.
Some brands like The Morphbag, choose to avoid leather altogether, due to concerns about animal welfare and the environmental impact of producing leather.
At the Morphbag we started our first range with recycled PU offering the best longevity and closeness to texture to leather as possible. Our material is PETA certified Vegan and bears the Vegan Society Trademark.
We are constantly researching and testing alternative materials for our next sustainable collection.
Our ultimate goal is to find 100% bio-degradable options (currently apple, cactus and pinapple leather are also PU backed) that look and feel like hide leather and are equally durable. Durability is key as ultimately, it is the consumption that needs to be curbed in order to protect from rapid climate change.
How You Can Help Combat Cattle Farming
- If you’re a meat eater, simply commit to eating less meat. Less demand for meat will mean less demand for cattle farming.
- Consider Going Vegan.
- Use what leather you already have, at The Morphbag we believe that sustainability starts with not being wasteful. Of course, if you turned Vegan and cannot bear to wear anything leather, do pass it on to someone else to use.
For all of the flaws of the leather industry and the way, leather is made - it does last, so don't ever throw it in the bin. Make sure someone else can make use of it. Then look for eco-friendly leather alternatives for the things you need.
Conclusion: Leather production is without a doubt harmful to the planet.
Try to find ethical and environmentally friendly alternatives for the products you love, handbags are a great place to start.
You can also help by spreading awareness about the environmental challenges of cattle farming and the dangers of leather production, many people are unaware.
Beef production has a considerable effect on climate change due to emissions of greenhouse gases such as methane, nitrous oxide and carbon dioxide. Research shows that ruminant livestock account for between 7% and 18% of global methane emissions from human-related activities. - Source WWF
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