Leather, a renewable material

Is leather renewable?

Leather starts with a hide or skin, which is a natural material and 100% biobased. By using products in the leather making process with a high level of biobased content, the level of renewability of the material remains high. The renewability of leather can be as high as 95%.

Still, even in a case of using less sustainable chemicals or in case of leather with heavy finishing, the renewability level of leather will not likely go below 70%. In comparison to alternatives to leather, this is very high, since most alternatives contain a high level of fossil-based materials (e.g., plastics) and largely score lower than 30% in renewability.

Genuine leather vs. alternative materials

The figure below shows comparisons of bio-based carbon (C14) contents measured on leathers with different wet end and finishing recipes (bio-based vs traditional petro-based, Royal Smit & Zoon internal data) and on various types of ‘bio-based alternative materials’ such as ‘cactus leather’ and AppleSkin.

The data presented in the figure clearly demonstrate the bio-based nature of leather. Even with traditional petro-based wet end and finishing recipes, finished leather still presents a typical bio-based carbon content between 70- 80%. This can be further optimized up to a range of 85-95% using bio-based recipes, withoutsignificantly impacting the performance of the leather. By contrast, the self-proclaimed ‘bio-based alternative materials’ typically present bio-based carbon contents below 30%.


The effect of high bio-based content in leather

A hide is renewable in and of itself and intrinsically biodegradable. Depending on the leather making process, including the right chemicals and tanning agent, biodegradability and compostability levels can be further improved. Using the right chemicals in the leather making process is aimed at keeping the renewability level as high as possible. When the leather itself has a high renewable content, this also means the waste streams and residues (clippings, shavings) from the leather making process will be more bio-based and can be re-used, recycled or biodegraded better.

Biobased in combination with good biodegradability will support full circularity of leather if, of course, the leather is also correctly processed after use.

renewability whitepaper

Learn more about the renewability of materials in leather making  and download our whitepaper.

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