Although recycled leather has gradually become a mainstay in the fashion industry, lots of uncertainties still surround it. However, I have tried to understand, what is recycled leather? So necessarily, I should have unearthed the basic workings of recycled leather and its application.
And my research has led me to believe the term “recycled leather” describes a kind of material that is produced by recycling or repurposing used leather waste or scraps from various sources. It may be used to create a range of goods, including purses, shoes, wallets, furniture, and other accessories.
This is a short briefing before going into an in-depth discussion, giving precise answers to the most common questions about recycled leather. We will also consider the pros and cons of recycled leather. Whether you are an avid leather enthusiast or just a curious fashion lover, here is all you need to know about recycled leather.
What Is Recycled Leather?
Recycled leather is a type of leather made by combining bits and scraps of leather together. Just like in many other industries, many leather pieces are eventually considered waste. Turning these bits and pieces into recycled leather is a more sustainable way of managing them.
The scraps and pieces that go into the production of recycled leather are usually sourced from leather factories, fashion houses, furniture factories, and even households. There are three major types of leather waste that can be recycled:
These are the most common leather waste that can be recycled. Leather scraps are largely gotten during the production of leather. They are the cutoffs, too small for making finished leather products.
Leather shavings are the excesses of leather fabric that are usually trimmed off during the production of leather pieces and outfits.
This is the finer part of leather waste. It is generated during the cutting and finishing stages of leather processing. There are many other names for recycled leather. Some of the most common names include reconstituted leather, composition leather, and bonded leather.
How Is Leather Recycled?
I have found three major ways of recycling leather in my research: The first method is the chemical method, which involves using certain chemicals to break down leather scraps before binding them into sheets. The second method is the biological method which involves applying enzymes to break down of leather scraps into substrates before binding them into sheets.
However, the most common method of recycling leather is the third option, the mechanical method. This process of producing recycled leather involves five major stages.
After collecting bits and scraps of leather for recycling, many manufacturers sort them based on certain criteria. In certain cases, the leather scraps undergo special treatments such as cleaning and disinfection before they are turned into recycled leather.
Recycled leather is made of scraps and bits of different leather pieces. To get the best out of them, they must first be shredded into fine pieces. This way, it becomes easier to bind them into one piece.
The next step is adding a polyurethane binder to the shredded leather bits. This binder will help hold all the different shredded bits into one piece. At this stage, many manufacturers also add pigments to the polyurethane binder. This way, recycled leather is given its preferred shade and color.
After mixing the shredded leather bits with the polyurethane binder, the mixture is then spread over a thin paper or fiber-like sheet. This way, recycled leather is given the sheet-like structure of genuine leather.
Finally, the recycled leather is coated with polyurethane. This coating improves the appearance of recycled leather and makes it resemble genuine leather.
How Durable Is Recycled Leather?
Like most curious fashion enthusiasts, you might be wondering “Is recycled leather durable?” Compared to genuine leather, recycled leather is not so durable. Recycled leather might be made from real leather, but they are not a homogenous fabric.
Hence, such materials do not offer as much resistance as real leather and are more likely to tear, crack or peel. In addition, recycled leather material holds less ability to resist moisture when compared to genuine leather. While the polyurethane binder holds all the fibers of recycled leather together, it offers significantly less resistance against moisture penetration.
Is Recycled Leather Genuine Leather?
It is easy for inexperienced eyes to mistake recycled leather for genuine leather. But, is recycled leather real leather? The answer is no. The treatments involved in the production of recycled leather usually leave it with the appearance of genuine leather.
But, recycled leather is not genuine leather, and can never be the same even though they are derived from bits and scraps of genuine leather.
What Are The Advantages Of Recycled Leather?
Sustainability! Yes, you heard right. Recycled leather has a lesser environmental effect than traditional leather production and may be used to manufacture a variety of items, including shoes, purses, wallets, upholstery, and other accessories. Some of the benefits of recycled leather include:
Reduction in Waste Generation
The leather industry generates lots of waste. Most of the bits and scraps from the leather industry simply make their way to landfills or even water bodies. In most cases, such waste is disposed of in environmentally harmful ways. However, recycling leather reduces the amount of this waste and reduces its impact on our environment.
Producing leather pieces takes a significant toll on natural resources. Rearing livestock for their hide also puts more pressure on our ecosystem. Hence, recycling leather reduces the need for fresh raw materials. This way, recycled leather helps us conserve natural resources for future generations.
The environmental impact of recycled leather often raises the question: “Is recycled leather vegan?” No. Recycled leather is produced from scraps of genuine leather sourced from livestock. Therefore, it is incorrect to consider recycled leather as vegan.
Compared to genuine leather, recycled leather is considerably cheaper. Recycling leather provides designers with fabrics for making more affordable leather pieces for consumers. In addition, the market for recycled leather allows many professional workers to make extra income by selling unused leather bits.
As recycled leather also reduces the need for fresh raw materials, it considerably lowers the cost of raw materials.
Recycled leather is considerably easier to work with. The shredding and binding stages of creating recycled leather allow manufacturers to shape recycled leather into any form they desire. Additionally, the finishing stage of recycling leather enables designers to print different textures on the surface of the fabric.
Disadvantages of Recycling Leather
Although recycled leather is a more affordable alternative to genuine leather, it has a few downsides.
Recycled leather is not renowned for strength and longevity. Unlike real leather, recycled leather cannot withstand considerable stress. It is also very likely to peel and tear with time.
Although recycled leather is made of leather scrapes and bits, it’s not always composed of genuine leather. Many manufacturers are known to add other fabric pieces into recycled leather.
Although recycled leather is considerably cheaper than real leather, that is not always the case. Sometimes, the amount of resources involved in producing recycled leather increases its final cost.
Recycled leather requires lots of maintenance to keep it in good shape. It is not as water resistant as real leather and requires lots of conditioning to keep it safe from harsh weather conditions.
Applications of Recycled Leather
There are so many areas where recycled leather can be utilized. Ranging from fashion to furniture making and construction, manufacturers use recycled leather fabric to produce lots of different finished leather products.
Asides from its affordability, recycled leather fabrics are also easy to work with. These features make it a go-to option for many manufacturers. Some applications of recycled leather include:
Many fashion designers use recycled leather for making shoes, jackets, and bags. Thus, this creates an avenue for sustainable fashion by providing exquisite items while reducing the waste that goes to landfills.
Recycled leather is commonly used by automobile manufacturers for producing car seats, headrests, and motorcycle seats. This material may also become functional in constructing dashboard accents, console covers, armrests, and door trims.
Recycled leather is largely employed in the production of office chairs, sofas, and cushions. You would be surprised to know that several leather upholsteries are made from such material.
Leather dust is usually combined with sawdust and other particles and glued together. This way, many construction firms use them to create partition boards.
Recycled leather vs. Real Leather
As a more sustainable alternative to real leather, recycled leather is often put up against real leather. However, there are a few points that clearly stand out when you compare recycled leather vs real leather.
As it is sourced primarily from livestock, real leather is largely based on animal hide. Recycled leather on the other hand often has less than 20% of genuine leather in its composition. Real leather is more durable and resistant to abrasion compared to recycled leather. As a homogenous fabric, real leather is more likely to withstand stress and harsh weather.
Recycled leather on the other hand takes its structure from a fiber-based sheet. Therefore, it is more likely to crack along existing fault lines. Additionally, the polyurethane finish on the surface of recycled leather is likely to peel off due to exposure to sunlight.
Compared to recycled leather, real leather is quite pricey. Besides the cost of raising livestock for their hide, the process of converting raw animal hide into finished leather fabrics also contributes to its cost.
Is Recycled Leather Products Durable?
Compared to real leather, recycled leather products are not so durable. Although they have lots of benefits, recycled leather products are more prone to damage.
However, here are a few tips that you can use to make recycled leather products last longer.
Unlike real leather, water easily penetrates recycled leather products. And without adequate care, cracks start to appear. However, you can give recycled leather products more protection from moisture damage with waterproofing sprays.
These sprays usually come with UV protection to protect the polyurethane finish from sunlight.
You can find suitable waterproofing sprays for recycled leather in retail stores around you. However, ensure that you study the product label carefully to get the best results.
Conditioning recycled leather products with mineral oils is a great way to keep the polyurethane finish lubricated. Mineral oils also offer more protection from UV radiation. This way, you prevent the recycled leather from cracking, fraying, or peeling.
Just like real leather, recycled leather can still grow mold and mildew. Besides ruining recycled leather products, this occurrence could also result in health problems. Hence, it is important that you store recycled leather products properly.
Ensure that you store recycled leather products only in cool, dry places. Also, dry off wet recycled leather fabric before putting them away. Additionally, you could install a dehumidifier in your storage space to offer better protection against moisture.
Recycling leather plays a crucial role in improving environmental sustainability. The obvious alternative to recycling leather involves lots of toxic environmental practices. But, there are also lots of benefits for the leather industry as well. Besides providing more affordable alternatives to genuine leather, recycling leather is a profitable industry on its own.
However, there is a need for increased awareness to maximize the potential of the leather recycling industry – Hence this write-up on “what is recycled leather” should serve as an enlightening piece. Although recycled leather pieces are not as durable as real leather, there are effective tips that you can use to preserve your favorite recycled leather outfits.