Making Leather: Recycling a Byproduct

A big misconception, still in these times, is that animals are being bred for leather. In a recent study on UK consumers, it was found that only 24% of respondents where aware that hides or skins used to make leather are a by-product of the food industry that would otherwise go to waste. 50% of consumers said they thought that leather derives from animals which are raised specifically to make leather. You can find the full report here

When it comes to cow, sheep, goat and pig leather, that is never the case. The hides that are used to create leather are a byproduct from the meat and dairy industry.

The leather industry is recycling a byproduct and creating a unique material from a skin that would otherwise mostly end up as landfill. As long as people on this planet will be eating meat and consume dairy, there will be hides and skins.

Cow hides a by product from the meat industry

What to do with the hides?

Meat consumptions causes approximately 7 millions tonnes of bovine hides  yearly. The hide accounts for a small amount of the total value of the animal. Therefore the hide is a by-product of the meat industry. 7 million tonnes of hides is an average of roughly 1.000 trucks per day.

How do we handle this by-product? We can either lose it or use it. By losing these hides for example by burning or disposing the hides as land fill would have a massive negative impact on the environment. Instead of causing environmental damage, Royal Smit & Zoon promotes the use of hides and turning them into beautiful leather. As a result, leather is contributing to a better environment, provided that the leather is manufactured in the most sustainable way.

The value of a hide

In the beginning of 2020, a hide represented approximately 1% of the entire value of the animal.

Although by-products have traditionally accounted for 8-10% of total live fed steer value, data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Livestock Marketing Information Center as of April 29, 2020, suggest by-products are averaging slightly below 7% of total carcass value, with hides hovering slightly above 1% of the entire value of the animal – perhaps the lowest percentage on record. Traditionally, hides, on average, have contributed 6 to 8% of the total value of U.S. beef cattle.

View the full report.


Why leather is a byproduct

If cattle would be raised for leather, then what would happen if we all use less leather goods? The demand would drop and less cows would be slaughtered. But, in reality the opposite is happening. The demand for leather has been decreasing over the years, whereas global demand for beef is rising. We are now, worldwide, left with tonnes of hides that end up in landfill. That leather industry is truly recycling a byproduct and turning it into a beautiful, natural and long-lasting material.

Leather, a truly sustainable material

Let’s summarize. Because the fact is that properly made and sourced leather is a truly sustainable material. Leather is:

  • made from a by-product (recycle) and
  • a long-lasting (durable) material, two very important aspects of sustainability.

Leather can be a sustainable, circular and biodegradable material when using the right chemicals. An example of circular and biodegradable leather fashion is the Return To Nature bag collection of Anya Hindmarch.

What is a byproduct?

Output other than the principal product(s) of an industrial process, such as sawdust or woodchips generated in processing lumber. Unlike joint-products, by-products have low value in comparison with the principal product(s) and may be discarded or sold either in their original state, or after further processing

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