Leather production is done in several stages that can take upwards of a month. At the end, something that once was a food industry by-product is turned into a precious material that is adored by many for its fashionable toughness. The first step in this process is when the raw hides are taken through a series of operations and chemical treatments which rehydrate and unhair the hides. Tanning of the hides is the next step, this is what makes leather so desirable. The hides are placed into wooden drums and coated with tanning chemicals that transform the product and then shaved. This process will be repeated several times until the desired strength and thickness is achieved. Finally, the hides are dyed to obtain the desired color and softened using chemicals.
What does all of this tanning and dying do to our environment? The impact of the environment is very negative due to the tanning chemicals that are used in most mass production leather factories. This problem is a significant issue in countries that are known for their loose industry regulations, and use low cost, high polluting production methods. This is why leather that is made in Italy and the United States is so highly priced and coveted, because both countries have strict rules and regulations about what can be done in leather production. Here are some innovative ways that are currently improving the environmental sustainability of leather production:
- Water-free automated retanning and dying
- Wet White® - An organic metal and formaldehyde free tanning agent
- Water based pigments that are free of VOC, heavy metals, chrome VI, formaldehyde and phthalate.
- Plant based tanners
Finally, the amount of water that is used to produce leather without the above innovations is astronomical. It takes 431 liters of water to produce 1 ounce of leather. To put that into perspective, that is 113.8 days’ worth of drinking water for the average adult. But what does 1 ounce of leather get you? The answer is not much, but 5 ounces of leather will get you this Italian leather purse from Coach. But mind you, the leather did take 2,218 liters of water to produce. The upside to leather, it is a long lasting material just due to the nature of the material.