Misconceptions about leather abound. This Earth Day we want to set the record straight by debunking five of the most common leather myths and answering critical questions such as: Where does leather come from? How is leather made? How sustainable is it really? Our aim is to encourage consumers to think twice about the products they buy.

Myth 1 – Animals are slaughtered to make leather

In the United States, zero cattle are killed to make leather. Leather is a by-product of the meat and dairy industry, worth between 1 and 2% of the value of a cow. It cannot be rendered and if it isn’t used by the leather industry, it typically ends up as waste in a landfill. The U.S. leather industry already uses 83% of the hides from meat and dairy but today has committed to ensuring that the remaining 17% are no longer wasted but used for clothing, shoes, furniture and car interiors.

Myth 2 – Turning hides into leather uses harmful chemicals

The leather industry’s chemical use is controlled by stringent regulations such as REACH in the EU and the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) in the U.S. Additionally, the independent Leather Working Group awards tanneries Gold, Silver, Bronze or Audited status in conjunction with United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and using evaluation criteria developed with the WWF and Greenpeace.

Almost 90% of U.S. leather is made via Chrome tanning with the rest using vegetable or other processes. Chrome tanning uses Chromium III which is harmless, unlike Chromium VI. Chromium III is part of our required diet, taken as a supplement and naturally occurring in foods such as bread, green peppers and apples. Tanning uses very little Chromium III.  Most Chromium III is used to make stainless steel and for chromium plating.

Leather tanning

Myth 3 – Leather tanneries are indiscriminate users of water

Leather manufacturing is a resource-intensive business but the leather industry is using less water every year. Globally, it has reduced its use of water by 37% in the past 25 years (for the production of leather from cow hides). The tanning industry globally accounts for only 0.075% of industrial water consumption.

Myth 4 – Leather tanneries are heavy polluters

The U.S. leather industry works within a comprehensive system of federal regulations covering clean water, clean air, waste disposal, and contaminated land clean-up. Best practice tanneries are going further and working towards creating circular waste streams that provide new materials or energy sources from their solid waste.

Myth 5 – Vegan leather is better for the environment

Quite the opposite. Whilst leather is a bio-based and biodegradable material, ‘leather’ alternatives are often made from synthetic materials that are typically non-renewable and oil-based. Also, a new study from FILK (an independent Research Institute for Leather and Synthetic Materials based in Germany), detected restricted substances in some of the leather alternatives it evaluated.