Guest Contribution: Meena Iyer
The impact of Covid-19 and the lockdown it triggered has deeply changed our lives with an increased focus not only on our health and safety but also on the planet and the people around us. This blog highlights how making sustainable choices when we buy products makes us more responsible consumers with a positive impact on the environment around us.
Cattle are reared to provide meat and dairy with cattle hide(skin) processed in tanneries and used in leather goods production. This blog focuses on the impact of pollution on our water bodies, mainly from tannery waste, and what interesting and bio-friendly alternative leather choices we as consumers have. Our shopping experiences can be enhanced when we know our choices are safe for the earth. The considerations mentioned here are :
- Leather Traceability
- Sustainable Sourcing
- Impact of Tannery Waste on Waterbodies
- Bio-friendly Alternative Leather
Traceability of Leather:
Knowing the materials that make our leather products, such as apparel/footwear/handbags or belts, and the ability to trace the raw materials from the slaughterhouse to the finished product is called traceability. This process is fundamental to assess the sustainability of the leather supply chain. Tanning is a process where the hide is treated primarily with chemicals and convert to finished leather. Safe and effective treatment of tannery waste is critical as the effluents are commonly discharged into water bodies, and the potential effects on native water communities can damage the environment.
Sourcing of leather from certified tanneries would ensure environmental best practices in all leather production areas, such as usage of chemicals in the tannery process, wastewater management, related greenhouse gas emissions, and leather traceability.
Think about this …
India’s lakes, rivers, and water bodies are stretched to breaking point due to multiple factors around the effects of climate change, population surge, and pollution, to name a few. Several positive steps have been taken, and one of the notable ones is the cleaning up of our Ganges river basin. Industrial waste discharged from the nearby cities into the Ganga river constitutes around 20% to its pollution. Due to industrial waste’s toxic and non-biodegradable nature, the negative impact on water is very high.
Analyze from the picture below the threat of pollution to the Ganges from industrial waste(including waste from tanneries), municipal sewage, among others that are hurting India’s lifeline.
Bio-friendly Alternative Leather:
Did you know that several leather-intensive Fashion, Automotive, and Furniture companies embrace the ‘away from the cow’ approach and look at environmentally friendly options?
- Currently, the most widely used leather alternatives are plastic materials. PVC is the most commonly used alternative due to its low prices, but it is an environmentally damaging as plastic releases toxins throughout its lifecycle. Mushroom Leather is made from edible mushrooms cultivated on recycled sawdust and, at the end-of-life can be fully compostable. Pineapple Leather made from wasted pineapple leaves are not only an extra source of income for the farmer, but the residue left behind from the waste is used as fertilizer back into the pineapple fields. Bio-Fabricated Leather is an alternative, and so is metal-free tanning, as the conventional tanning process has potential carcinogenic effects due to the usage of chemicals like chrome.
- Leather car interiors are gradually losing momentum in the global automotive and transportation industry. More vehicle manufacturers are opting for synthetic fabrics as alternatives for leather materials, both due to a decrease in leather supply and lower costs. Car manufacturers are looking into sustainable leather operations and supply chains, mirroring the apparel industry’s major trend.
- For the most part, Furniture companies are still embracing the traditional leather business, again focusing on sustainable leather supply chains and operations. Some innovations in the space, such as Enspire Leather, which makes leather from scraps and can recycle unused leather it sells, has partnered with La-Z-Boy and Timberland to create more environmentally friendly products.
Food for thought:
Though one may argue cattle hide is just a by-product of the meat industry and has excellent durability, provides maximum comfort as finished leather, and is cost-effective than the bio-friendly leather options, it is imperative for us to think about the social, health, and environmental impact due to usage of leather. Is this a sustainable solution for our waters? So, as informed consumers, we should be smart, look at eco-friendly options, and think before we buy. Our future generations will thank us for our sustainable choices that we make today.