The waste generation in tanneries has been increasing multi-fold over the decades due to new technological interventions in the development of required machines. Leather tanning in the tanneries refers commonly to the whole leather-making process. Hides and skins from cattle, pigs, and sheep which are most used in leather manufacture can absorb tannic acid and other agents which help prevent them from decay, damage, and pests and help in their resistance to wetting.
However, despite that, a tannery generates huge amounts of waste. Out of 1000 kg of raw material which is the hides and skins of animals, 850 kg of it is wasted as solid waste during leather processing. Only 150 kg of raw material is used for the actual leather manufacture to be shipped to retailers and craftsmen for artefact manufacturing. Bilk amounts of these wastes are mostly discharged into natural water bodies, from channels of drains without any treatment.
The semi-solid wastes from tanneries usually stay at the surface level polluting the water bodies and restricting any activities like cooking, bathing, swimming and irrigation, and hence are left no more for usage.
This pollutes the water bodies and many times causes air pollution with intolerable and obnoxious odours due to the decomposition of wastes. Water pollution can even cause aquatic life damage due to the penetration of harmful chemical substances spoiling the ecosystem to a very large extent.
Understanding these climate changes and damages becomes instrumental to dealing with the waste more sustainably. The employment of recycled leather in the tanneries becomes important to effectively reuse the leather discharge and upcycle it for other purposes. Let’s explore what is it and how it helps to make sustainable living possible, accessible, and affordable.
What is recycled leather?
After the leather processing in typical tanneries, there is a huge amount of waste generated. This generated waste of leather scraps is recycled following several steps as a sustainable solution to combat waste generation. Recycled leather is hence, the product of the by-products of the leather manufacturing industry.
How is recycled leather made?
Recycled leather is made using scraps from tanneries in the following steps:
- The leather scraps are shredded into very petite and small shreds of leather as a very first.
- Then these shreds are made to amalgamate using resins, natural latex, and catalyzers which help them to be glued together.
- These amalgamated shreds are then pressed under metal moulds and mechanical pressers of a range of shapes and sizes and subsequently manufactured to make artefacts and various products.
- Vegetable tannins and natural tanning oils are used for the final furnishing of this recycled leather.
- The final product does not need any additional processing or polishing due to an already-achieved lustre that looks like natural leather.
Is Recycled leather the same as Vegan leather?
No, Recycled leather usually is made from scraps of actual leather which is never vegan because it is made from animal hides. However, Vegan leather which is also commonly known as Faux leather, or PU leather made of thermoplastic polymers exists. This vegan leather is cruelty-free, abuse free, and eco-friendly because it does not utilize animal hide at all. It is made using cork, Poly Vinyl Chloride, and other such chemical agents and the final products resemble natural leather to a great extent.
What are the challenges in recycling leather?
The primary challenge to recycling leather is that it poses extra costs for recycling. These costs are not willing to be closed off by the consumers at a very large scale. The tanneries hence, mostly dispose of the scraps of leather as the companies are not ready to invest.
It might, however, be a game-changer in the market in the coming decades due as the popularity and trends for sustainable goods continue to rise.
How is recycled leather different from real leather?
Recycled leather is composed of processed natural leather scraps, resins and catalyzers, and other chemical agents which differentiate it from real leather to a great extent. The composition of recycled leather is around 60 per cent of natural leather, 30 per cent of resins and glue-like substances which hold the shreds together, and 10 per cent of synthetic agents which are used for its coating and furnishing.
What are the disadvantages of recycled leather?
The following can be stated as the disadvantages of using recycled leather:-
- Recycled leather, manufactured as a side business has reduced durability as compared to real leather. It can crack and peel over the years due to increased tension over the material.
- Recycled leather is much thinner than real leather.
- The fragile nature of recycled leather is surprisingly even vulnerable to sunlight. Sunlight usually fades away its polish.
- It is also very synthetic. This could be a problem for people with sensitive skin as the chemicals could be allergic.
- For individuals sensitive to toxic smells, it might not be a good option as recycled leather, due to its synthetic composition can let out obnoxious odours.
Is recycled leather sustainable?
Yes, it is. It’s always a better practice to recycle waste materials in an effective way than to generate more. But what stays a problem is its lack of biodegradability and that, it is still an animal product that is a product of animal abuse and killing. However it does provide many advantages over real leather due to its reduced costs, so it could be considered a great alternative to your shopping list.