REAL VS FAUX LEATHER

There are many pressing environmental issues related to leather production, and these are damaging to our planet for two major reasons. Firstly, the leather industry is connected to the meat and dairy industry, which is on the way to becoming the biggest contributor to global warming[1]. Secondly, in addition to emissions from livestock production, rawhide goes through an extremely polluting and wasteful process.

Leather can be seen as more of a co-product than a by-product of the meat industry. This is because raising the demand for leather results in the killing of 1 billion animals just for their skin each year. It is profitable for farmers to sell skins, including the skins of new born or unborn calves. Some others animals used for their skin are snakes, alligators, ostriches, and lizards.

The meat and dairy industries release high levels of greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere[2]. Livestock sector greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) account for 14.5% of the global total, and these emissions are higher than all emissions from the world’s transport system[3].

Animal husbandry requires a lot of land and water, and 77% of the world’s agricultural land is used to raise animals[4]. In addition, 80% of the deforestation in the Amazon rainforest is used for the cattle sector[5], resulting in the destruction of the world’s most important ecosystem. Livestock has an devastating impact on biodiversity and wildlife due to the land being cleared for cattle, leather, palm oil, soy, textiles, and timber. According to FAO, raising many animals on a certain amount of land is a foundation for the creation of diseases that will affect wildlife. The degradation of land is contributing to overall habitat change (desertification and changes in vegetation), invasive alien species, overexploitation and competition, and pollution[6].

To become finished leather, rawhide hide needs to be processed so that it doesn't decompose. Using vegetable tanning does not notably reduce leather’s environmental impact, as 93% of the environmental impact occurs even before the leather reaches the tannery[7]. Leather tanneries require a lot of energy, water, and dangerous chemicals. They also produces high amounts of waste. Waste from the leather industry includes solid and liquid components, such as dyes, fat, flesh, chemicals (such as chromium), and other toxic chemicals. Developing countries (where most leather originates) usually don’t have filtering systems in their operations, and this presents severe danger to the air, land, water, and local people.

Materials connected to animal agriculture are more environmentally intensive than man-made materials. It is estimated that by 2050 there will be 9 billion people on the planet[8]. Land will be scarce, and we will have to use materials that don’t depend on eroding the land. Therefore, superior man-made materials offer promising solutions, as they are made in a factory and are not linked to excessive land and water use.

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[1] Grain.org. (2018). Emissions impossible: How big meat and dairy are heating up the planet. [online] Available at: https://www.grain.org/article/entries/5976-emissions-impossible-how-big-meat-and-dairy-are-heating-up-the-planet.

[2] Grain.org. (2018). Emissions impossible: How big meat and dairy are heating up the planet. [online] Available at: https://www.grain.org/article/entries/5976-emissions-impossible-how-big-meat-and-dairy-are-heating-up-the-planet.

[3] Froggatt, A., Wellesley, L. and Bailey, R. (2019). Livestock – Climate Change’s Forgotten Sector: Global Public Opinion on Meat and Dairy Consumption. [online] Chatham House. Available at: https://www.chathamhouse.org/publication/livestock-climate-change-forgotten-sector-global-public-opinion-meat-and-dairy.

[4] Ritchie, H. and Roser, M. (2019). Land Use. [online] Our World in Data. Available at: https://ourworldindata.org/land-use.

[5] Greenpeace USA. (n.d.). Slaughtering the Amazon. [online] Available at: https://www.greenpeace.org/usa/research/slaughtering-the-amazon/.

[6] Wassenaar, P. (2019). Livestock’s long shadow. [online] Fao.org. Available at: http://www.fao.org/3/a0701e/a0701e00.htm.

[7] Disko (2019). EP&L: a measurement tool for sustainable Luxury. [online] Kering.com. Available at: https://www.kering.com/en/sustainability/environmental-profit-loss/.

[8] Wassenaar, P. (2019). Livestock’s long shadow. [online] Fao.org. Available at: http://www.fao.org/3/a0701e/a0701e00.htm.