Questioning Leather Today

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Animals skins pervade into all corners of our culture and life. We sit on them, we wear them, we cover the inside of our cars in them. And this is looked at as something to be excited about – we pay more for the leather interior, for the leather handbag and sales men tell us the couch is leather like that is a good thing. But is it?

Most vegans vehemently argue it is not. And I don’t think this is crazy, despite the looks you can get when you ask for the “non-leather option."

Recently when purchasing a new car to fit in more growing children and dogs, I struggled to find one that didn’t have a leather interior. Audi, BMW, Lexus all couldn’t provide me with an option in Australia, even though I hear they can in the States. I kindly pointed out to them that Tesla, whom surely has to be looked as the leader in design as far as cars are concerned, provides their cars with non-leather interiors. Being eco-conscious designs, they do this for good reason.

Leather comes from numerous animals; cows, sheep, "exotic animals",even dogs in China... Just looking at cows, as gentle as they are and by no fault of their own, are causing a major strain on our planet. We have breed their numbers to be approximately 1.5 billion and this has a few major complications;

  1. We need to feed them, so we use up much of earths land and water to do so.

  2. We need land for them to live on. A lot of it. Livestock covers 45% of the earths total land.

  3. They produce 150 billion gallons of methane per day. Methane is more 20-100 times more destructive than CO2 in a 20-year frame.

The tanning process of leather also causes issues for our planet. Most Australian animal skins are exported as salted hides  - before the tanning process. There are only a small number of finished leather producers in Australia because of the high competition from imported - cheaper - leather producers from developing countries like India and China, two of the highest producing leather countries in the world. They may be cheaper but the price is paid somewhere, including environmentally, as substandard environmental controls exist in these countries.

In China and India, most of the leather is chrome tanned, which results in carcinogenic chromium being pumped into the water table. It is washed away with the wastewater, along with other byproducts of the leather production process, including animal fat and protein, acids, alkali, salt, sodium sulphide, lime, dyes and other hazardous substances.

It has become such an issue in parts of China and India in the leather dominant states, that they are experiencing environmental disasters, as demonstrated in the photo below in the Chinese state of Xinji , where total river systems have turned into toxic sludge after decades of 90% of the water flowing in the river being industrial wastewater - mostly from the tanneries.

While leather can be tanned used non-toxic vegetable dyes, chrome tanning is faster and produces a flexible leather that's preferred for high-end bags and coats, so there's no incentive for factories to switch. Another disastrous consequence of this noxious waste is the threat to human health from the high levels of lead, cyanide, and formaldehyde in the groundwater near tanneries.

The confronting documentary, Hazaribagh;Toxic Leather showed some of the bitter consequences of the cheap leather trade from India to Bangladesh. If you wear leather, it is a must-watch eye opener.

"On the outskirts of Dhaka lies a giant slum of tanneries and over 500,000 people who work in them. Every year this living hell floods the European market with cheap leather. The workers here slave away at archaic machinery in absolute squalor, turning 14 million skins into leather. Toxic products used on the leather burn their skin, cause cancer and kill most before fifty."

With leather products now "disposable" fast fashion items we have to wonder what happens to them in landfill? After all that tanning treatment, leather isn't so biodegradable. The number that is used is 50 years + to break down but archaeologists frequently find leather items dating back 12,000 years - which would indicate the timing may be a little longer in landfill!

There are, of course, issues with plastic alternatives to leather but now there are a surge in kinder alternatives that are high in quality. Even many of the professional soccer boots are made from synthetic materials – and this is done because of optimum outcomes…As for the problem with fast-fashion, this is a habit that rocks the planet no matter what material we use...and we must curb to win the war on waste.

But apart from the waste and the hazards, when we consider the ethics and impacts of leather we must look at the animal.

My son Jacob, has been raised to have the view point that animals have feelings, can suffer and feel joy, and will do what they can to save their own lives, demonstrating they have a will not to be killed (all things that are proved scientifically, so are not strange things to think!) If he is sitting on leather, he freaks out.

I calm him down, because it won’t work in our society to break down every time there is leather – but he does so for good reason.

Because he is absolutely, to the core of his beautiful uncorrupted being, horrified by the fact that leather once belonged to an animal that was killed. For him, it is like what sitting on human skin would be like for others. Or dog skin…

I don’t like it either, but somewhere along the line, we grow thick skin as adults, as coping mechanisms to the really fucked-up stuff that goes on in our world. If we didn’t, we would crumble. The war, the poverty, the rape, the abuse. The environmental destructions. Ah, life isn’t pretty. So, we build walls so we can cope. But these walls can sometimes get in our way of perceiving things as they really are and get in the way of where we can make changes.

We may not be able to do anything to change the situation with poverty and war, but we can with leather and the issues that comes with it producing it...

Maybe you think you don't care, but to see how we feel about it at our core, we must look at it for what it truely is. To get very real with ourselves whether we are happy to support it or not.

Leather, apart from the impacts on the planet and people who make it – to state the blatant truth – is the remains of the skin of someone who was once alive and killed against their will. No matter what colour it is dyed, what shape it is made into – this is the no-frills truth.

This animal has 90 percent chance that they were raised in conditions of factory farms where they are kept in overcrowded conditions and suffered their short lives. If you are someone who doesn't want to support suffering to animals, cruelty of factory farms, and does your best to buy more ethically-raised animal meat, or even eat a plant-bases diet, but then buy leather - it doesn't make sense...

Got to love a good PETA campaign