The International Council of Tanners (ICT), Cotance (Confederation of National Associations of Tanners and Dressers of the European Community), Leather Naturally and ICHSLTA (International Council of Hides, Skins and Leather Traders’ Associations) have issued a joint statement on the increasing use of alternative materials.
The full statement reads as follows: There are more and more new materials appearing in the fashion, design and upholstery for transport and interiors markets, with the stated ambition of replacing leather as the material of choice. This is usually based on claimed improvements in sustainability, which are rarely, if ever, substantiated.
While the quest for greater sustainability is a necessary one, the presentation of leather, a long-lasting, biodegradable material made from a renewable residual product of another industry, as unsustainable, is unwarranted and unsupported. Particularly when juxtaposed against emerging materials that are largely comprised of fossil fuel-based plastics.
Every year, on a global level, tanneries recover and valorise at least eight million tons of raw hides and skins from the food sector. Without the leather industry and its upcycling activity, this residual material would simply become waste and would be disposed of in landfills or incinerated. Destroying this waste instead of using it, releases around five million tons of greenhouse gases1. As such, the recovery and recycling of this waste by the leather industry reduces greenhouse gas emissions while creating a valuable and versatile product.
Inferior performance of alternatives
Are any of these new materials capable of doing this? The answer is far from clear as, despite the wide media coverage that supports each new release on to the market, little or nothing is known about the performance and composition of these materials (not to mention the sustainability of the related production processes).
A recent comparative analysis between eight of these new products and footwear upper leather2, conducted by the German institute FILK, demonstrated that technical performance of these new materials and leather have little in common. Leather was far superior to the examined alternatives in most of the relevant functional performance parameters and none of the alternatives could equal leather for all of them.
In addition, the claimed sustainability of the majority of these new materials appeared to be deeply compromised by the need for large quantities of synthetic materials such as polyurethane, to try to equal the functional performance of real leather. Find more.