Leathers are made from hides and skins of animals. So, in its true natural form, leather is indeed biodegradable. However, natural leather isn’t what we get in markets. Barring a few, most of our leather jackets, wallets, car seats, and handbags among others are made from processed leather.
Leather is processed through tanning which transforms the natural chemistry of leather fibers. This creates difficulties for the leather enzymes to break down easily. As you would guess, it also transforms the biodegradable quotient of the leather.
With that said, not all leathers are non-biodegradable. In fact, most organic and natural leathers can be called biodegradable. In the following sections, we will dig deeper into this and learn the many facets of biodegradability relating to leather.
Is Leather Biodegradable or Nonbiodegradable?
Yes, natural leather can be deemed biodegradable because it is primarily created from collagen cells. Most of these cells are derived from animal hides and are later tanned to limit and reduce the process of decay. However, that doesn’t mean it won’t decompose at any time. If you intentionally leave leather for rotting, it will eventually decompose.
Of course, this doesn’t apply to all types of leather. However, almost all-natural and organic leather and leather products fall under this category.
Leather is highly durable. Almost all products made from quality leather will last you for the longest time. The best part, they develop an excellent finish as they age. The long-lasting aspect is thus one of the key features of leather.
Now, can a product that lasts for the longest time be deemed biodegradable? Fortunately, the answer is yes. In several cases, you can develop leather from purely biodegradable materials. Natural and organic forms of leather can almost certainly be composted and are biodegradables.
However, the biodegradability of the leather almost entirely depends on the type and chemistry of tanning administered on it. Although some leathers may be biodegradable, not all of them fall under this category.
How Long Does it Take For Leather to Decompose?
At this point, you probably know that leather lasts you for the longest time. Given this degree of durability, many are left wondering how long exactly it takes for leather to decompose.
Typically, even natural and organic leather will require 2 to 5 decades to completely decompose in a powdered form. You can of course expedite the process by purposely rotting the leather by keeping it in a damp area or by burying it in your garden or on some loose soil.
Factors Behind The Decomposition of Leather
It is evident that leather will only decompose under some specific environmental conditions. For leather and leather products to decompose faster, they need to be exposed to the direct ultraviolet rays of the sun. Additionally, they need a microbial and bacterial environment and plenty of moisture to rot.
Even organic leather can take a significantly long time to decompose if it undergoes powerful and intense tanning. The decomposition process may be even slower if you store the leather item in a conducive area that will prevent rot.
According to archeologists, certain leather like the Mediterranean variants has lasted for more than 2500 years, which indeed is a long time.
Why Does Leather Take Longer Time to Decompose?
With more and more leather artifacts surviving, it gives us a clear idea that although leather may decompose, it is still likely to leave behind a bunch of rusty components.
Most of the older leather lasted because they were preserved under specialized conditions, in a preferably dry spot where the relative humidity is 50% and the oxygen levels are significantly low.
We should consider yet another crucial factor while determining the longevity of leather. During the 19th century, most leather was primarily tanned through the process of vegetable tanning. This is one of the strongest tanning methods that makes the longevity of these leather types, much superior to their present counterparts.
Currently, in the wake of global warming and countless environmental damages, leather is produced more sustainably. This makes it durable and biodegradable. However, because this only applies to certain types of leather, it is best to check with the manufacturer about the biodegradability quotient of the leather you are planning to purchase.
Is Leather Made From Animals?
Leather is primarily made from animal hide. While cows are the main animals from which leather are derived, others like goats, sheep, and exotic animals like snake and alligators are equally sought after, when it comes to making leather products. Among the leather derived from cows, the maximum of it is derived from the slaughtered cows that can’t produce milk anymore.
Luxurious and high-quality leather, however, is crafted from newborn veal and at times, calves that are still at their infant stage.
What Animal is Leather Made From?
Leather is crafted from a diverse range of animals, depending on the type and quality of the leather. Following is a brief list of the most common animals that are used for their hides:
This is perhaps one of the leading and common leather variants available today. Because it is a byproduct of the meat industry, you will find cowhide leather in almost all corners of the globe. This leather is deemed durable, and it is also heavier with an average weight ranging from 1 to 12 ounces.
Most of your jackets, car seats, large totes, are made from cowhides.
After cows, sheepskin stands as a close second in terms of popularity. Many manufacturers choose to tan it with some traces of fleece. This makes way for easier draping and thus the product is ideal for clothes, coats, and jackets. In some instances, fleece may also be used to create mats, rugs, carpets, and flip-flops.
Though not as popular as cow or sheep hide, pig hide is still one of the important sources of leather. The leather from pig hides, however, is extremely dense. They are also comfortable for the wearer and water-resistant. That is one of the main reasons why it is used in making, sports equipment, sneakers, and gloves.
Yes! Goat hides are also used for making leather. These items are usually utilized to create gloves, large bags, carpets, and similar items. Goat leather is thin and extremely soft when compared to other leather variants.
Snakes and Crocodiles
These fall under the category of exotic leather and are primarily available in Asian countries. Although many organizations have deemed them unethical because they end up endangering the animal, leather made from snake and alligator skin is still in vogue.
Another common animal/bird used for creating leather is Ostrich. Several designer brands in Australia rely on Ostrich leather for its unique texture. The products are typically manufactured in Africa where the bird’s feathers and eggs are used as byproducts.
Various Alternatives to Leather
Using animal hides for creating leather seems unethical to say the least. Although the practice isn’t encouraged by environment enthusiasts, you will still find countless leather products around you.
The solution? Stop using them and switch to alternatives instead. But can leather have any credible alternatives? Well, it sure does, and here’s a list to help you get started.
Primarily made from the fibers of Pineapple, this is yet another organic and sustainable replacement for leather. The best part: in addition to being stylish, durable, and eco-friendly, it also supports scores of farmer communities by offering that extra source of income. Pinatex can be used to make bags, shoes, and similar products.
Yes! You can make leather out of leaf as well. While this is fairly rare in the current market, this is eco-friendly and absolutely cruelty-free. Leaf leather is primarily created by adding polymer to retain the different fiber elements of the leaves.
Because leaves can be sourced without little to no difficulty, this is an excellent leather alternative. The best part: in addition to being sustainable, leaf leather is also chemical and toxic-free.
You can recycle rubber to create products that are almost similar to leather. And you get to enjoy all of this, minus the added animal cruelty. Recycled rubber is highly durable and has easy maintenance.
However, it does take a longer time to decompose. That is why it is a better idea to use the recycled variants of rubber. This way, you get a chance to reuse previously discarded products like tires, pipes, and similar stuff.
Well, now that you know how leather is manufactured and produced, it’s time you considered going fully sustainable by abandoning your leather products and switching to alternatives instead.
The alternatives listed here are just as durable as leather but unlike leather, they do not harm animals and are fully biodegradable. Because they are chemical and toxin-free, you are also actively taking a step to improve our environment by choosing these sustainable alternatives.