In recent years, leather has been the focus of many associations and companies, concerned about the sustainability of this material. Related discussions have taken place at a much stronger and more sophisticated level than ever before, covering topics such as animal welfare, and environmental and social impact issues (health of the workers who transform hide to leather in the tanneries). Work done in this area on behalf of end-consumer brands which focuses on the traceability of leather, have further fostered and strengthened the discussion.
Unlike many other materials used for clothing, leather waste and used leather products have long been sent to landfill or incineration and were not really compatible with both open loop and closed loop recycling processes. These materials were usually not commercially exploited as a raw material to manufacture other products.
The questions that have been worked on for materials such as cotton, polyester, nylon and even down and wool are now being asked also for leather: Are recycled leather fibres materials, rather than virgin leather, a viable and desirable ingredient, both from a product as well as sustainability point of view?
Broadly, this document covers the following areas:
- Background: Terminology and legal setting
- Supply chain and production processes
- Sustainability benefits and challenges.
However, it is important to state that this present document does not cover a scientific and nuanced discussion of the environmental and/or social benefits or challenges comparing virgin vs recycled leather fibres materials. The principle reasons for this decision are the lack of available and peer reviewed data, as well as methodological questions related to LCA framing.
You can download the primer in PDF format here.