Environmentally friendly leather?

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Have you heard of the term vegan leather? Sometimes it’s called pleather or plastic leather and is made from polyurethane (PU). More recently some new types of materials have been created to mimic the durability of leather without using plastic or harmful chemicals in the manufacturing process. I had a look into some of these new plastic-free alternatives and compared them with leather and pleather by weighing up the pros and cons.

Leather

I’m including real animal hide in this list as a comparison against the leather imitation materials out there.

Pros: Durable. Natural resource.

Cons: Non-vegan product as it involves animal cruelty. Modern tanning and dyeing chemicals are toxic to humans and the environment.

Pleather

Fabric coated with plastics to imitate leather.

Pros: No animal cruelty. Waterproof. Cheap to make.

Cons: Contributes to plastic waste in landfill and microplastic pollution in our environment. Created from harmful petrochemicals. Fossil fuels used to make plastics aren’t renewable.

Pinapple leather (Pinatex)

The leaves from pineapple plants that are normally thrown away after harvest time are turned into a durable fabric.

Pros: Income for small communities in The Philippines. Using waste products from the pineapple industry. Certified non-harmful chemicals are used in the tanning process.

Cons: The certified safe chemicals might not be healthy for the environment? It’s unclear how these chemicals are certified as non-harmful for the environment. Plant leathers, including Pinatex, are less durable than animal leather.

Mushroom leather (Muskin)

Made from mushroom skins that are treated to become a fabric that feels like suede.

Pros: Low water and carbon usage in the production process. Tanned using a chemical-free process.

Cons: Less durable than real leather.

Washable paper

The bark of some trees, such as the Kozo tree in Japan, can be turned into a leather-like material. Only the outer layers of bark are used, the tree remains unharmed.

Pros: Made from a renewable resource. Kozo trees grow quickly.

Cons: Synthetic latex is used as a coating to make the paper waterproof. This means the final product is not biodegradable and uses non-renewable resources.

Lab-grown leather

Also known as bio-leather, microoganisms such as bacteria and fungi are used to grow materials like leather without being harmful to animals.

Pros: No animals are harmed in the making of this material.

Cons: This technology is currently very expensive and only very small quantities can be made at a time.

There are many more new options for natural materials out there to explore too. Have you tried any new or up-cycled materials? Comment below!

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