Leather has been used since the B.C. era for a variety of purposes such as clothes, accessories, footwear, tents, and upholstery in furniture and vehicles. Leather gained popularity due to its comfortable properties as well as its accessibility, however, over time, this material grew even more popular, with the high demand of leather leading to a high demand of cattle farming.
Traditional leather is a by-product of killing and consuming cattle, however, we have learned that farming cattle is one of the largest contributors to global CO2 emissions, causing our climate to rapidly increase at an alarming rate. Because of this problem, people sought out alternatives to leather, but there are problems with these leather alternatives as well. Here’s a brief overview of the different types of leathers and the issues that arise from them.
Traditional cow leather has caused a multitude of issues for the environment, which are similar to issues that arise from raising cattle and producing meat or any animal product. Leather accounts for about 10% of profitable material coming from cows, so this is a motive for people to continue raising and farming cattle in order to produce this material. Other issues that arise from cattle farming include deforestation, an increase of greenhouse emissions, and pollution to the surrounding ecosystems. The tanning methods of leather, which help preserve the leather from decomposing, causes a lot of pollution to the waters in the cities in which it is produced. Some of these cities in India are even on the list of the top polluted cities in the world. We have all been made aware in recent years the dangers that cattle farming has on the environment, and leather is a detrimental additive to an already alarming climate rise.
Since it is one of the most popular materials people have sought for alternatives including synthetic or plastic leathers. These synthetic leathers allow the products to be manufactured and sold for cheaper while producing more. These synthetic leathers cause a fraction of environmental issues compared to cow leather, however, they still have negative impacts on the environment. A common alternative includes PVC leather which is oil, sunlight, weather, and flame resistant and cheaper to make. The process of this product can be dangerous and harmful to the workers producing it since it releases dangerous chemicals when heated. Another alternative is PU, Polyurethane, which is a little more environmental friendly than PVC leather. However, PU doesn’t last as long and isn’t as durable as cow leather. These are both plastic alternatives, and we all know what the downfall to plastic products are. These products will live forever even if it is just in the form of microplastics that will be released into the environment and can leak chemicals into water bodies.
Lastly, there are plant-based leather alternatives that are made out of plants or natural material. Many of these different products are being used to replace traditional and plastic leathers in order to make the material more sustainable and environmentally friendly. These innovative companies have been keeping up with the ‘trends’ that are helping our environment thrive. Nowadays, more people have been switching to sustainable and plant-based lifestyles. Sustainable products have a positive impact on the environment, however, they are not always accessible or affordable, so it may take time until sustainable products are universally used.
Some of these innovations are truly amazing and almost mind blowing with how simple the answer seems to be. We as a society need to continue to spread these ideas in order for more people to learn about sustainable products and their ethical, environmental, and personal benefits. Several companies, mentioned below, are using basic plants or natural systems to formulate something completely new.
Mycelium, which is the vegetative part of a fungi colony, consists of thread-like mass branching. These colonies are found inside and on soil and create a lattice-like pattern. These colonies are so strong they literally help hold the earth together. This material is used by companies like Mylo to replace traditional leather that has been used for centuries. Mylo mimics the natural systems indoors to produce their leather alternative. As they say. “…But people evolve, and so should our materials” (https://www.mylo-unleather.com/) which is so true. Switching to sustainable and alternative products are so important to help sustain life on this planet and keep the earth thriving and healthy. These plant-based approaches to leathers and other products or materials helps to open our world to the new possibilities of using plants in new ways.
Many of these natural products require less water than animal based or synthetic leathers, less land, and emit fewer greenhouse gases, making them more sustainable. To grow the natural products it takes a lot less time than it takes to raise cattle for traditional leather.
Along with Mylo and their use of mycelium to mimic and produce traditional ‘leather’, Desserto, a Mexican-based company, uses Cacti to replace traditional leather. These leathers are made from Nopal Cactus, commonly referred to as the prickly pear. This company is extremely sustainable and takes little time to harvest the cacti. The cactus ranch is irrigated only by rain water and does not need an additional irrigation system put in place. Prickly pears are resilient plants and can withstand low and high temperatures, they are native to the area in which this company grows and cultivates them meaning that this plant does not disturb the native ecosystems or biodiversity of these region while helping to enrich the soil, and the cactus also absorbs CO2 at night, which is greater than the amount of CO2 it produces. This company does not need additional energy to cultivate the plants and they use natural systems to create their products.
These new products are important and vital for our planet for many reasons. By using these alternative materials, less cattle will be raised and less land will be cleared to raise these cattle. The amazon, which is considered the ‘Lungs of the Earth’ is home to millions of cattle and this is the leading cause of deforestation in the amazon. By continuing to destroy this land, our planet will continue to diminish. We need to take action now in order to reverse this as best as we can, and we need to turn our attention to ‘plant-based’ products and materials.
Some other extremely innovative ‘plant-based’ or natural leathers are being made from leaves, pineapple, corn, flowers, fruit peels, coconut, and mushrooms.
By using the growth underneath our feet we can create a more sustainable life for all living creatures and ensure our planet thrives for many more years. Just imagine all the great things plants do for our planet naturally, and just imagine what we can do if we mimic these processes in order to create sustainable products that are accessible and available to most people. Close your eyes, picture your bare feet standing on grass, or dirt, or in mud surrounded by endless nature, and just picture what is happening beneath your feet, what systems are moving, what plants are growing, and what is causing the earth to remain balanced.