Is Leather Biodegradable?

Leather is one of man’s earliest and most useful inventions. It is durable material and the hides that are being used are sustainable in itself, as it is a byproduct from the meat industry.

Society asks for leather that is not just durable, but also biodegradable. But, what does that mean? What is the definition of biodegradable leather? When is leather biodegradable? What is the difference between composting and biodegradation?

Important questions, to talk about and understand. Leather and leather goods definitely have the potential to be biodegradable. It depends, among others, on the chemicals being used.

Any leather can be composted but the speed of degradation and environmental impact depends on the tanning chemistry used.

Facts about leather and biodegradability

  • A natural and unprocessed hide is biodegradable.  Leather is made from a hide or skin, a naturally biodegradable material and a byproduct of the meat industry. To use a hide or a skin for a leather good, for example for a car seat or a handbag, it needs to be processed. This process is called the tanning process. The tanning process changes the chemistry inside the leather fibers to make it more difficult for the enzymes from bacteria and fungi to break them down. This also changes the biodegradability of the material.
Biodegradable Leather
Figure 1: Hide and chemicals combine into leather


  • Leather is a durable material. A leather product stands the test of time – and better yet – it develops a gorgeous finish over time. Durability is one of the key features of leather.
  • Leather can be a biodegradable material.  Processed leather can be composted but the environmental impact and the biodegradability of the leather depends, among others, on the tanning chemistry being used. Not all leather is biodegradable.

The importance of biodegradability

Ocean plastic pollution, or the “Plastic Soup” as we know it, has highlighted just how important it is that materials can degrade back into the natural environment. The end-of-life of a leather article is therefor a vital topic to understand and to talk about. It is also a subject that leather manufacturers and fashion houses are interested in because consumers are increasingly demanding eco-friendly leather. The leather industry is taking the responsibility for the next generation to drive more sustainability in the leather value chain. Biodegradability is an important part in this matter.

Do you want to know more about this topic?

Download our Whitepaper ‘Biodegradability & disintegration of leather’.

Whitepaper Biodegradability & disintegration of Leather

Download the pdf

leather sustainability



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