Leather Toxicity

Leather Toxicity

One of my biggest challenges in moving to a sustainable wardrobe is leaving my love of leather shoes behind. My thought had long been that no other textile would wear in and mold to the curves of my feet like a nice pair of leather heels, or any leather shoe for that matter. Birkenstocks aren’t popular for nothing. That is until I fell in love with all of the StriveGreen vegan shoe brands and how quickly the handmade and sustainable textiles quickly mold to my feet! Animal consumption aside, the leather tanning industry is one of the major sources of pollution in the world. Leather tanning involves a complex process from soaking, fleshing, unhairing, liming, deliming, bating, degreasing, to tanning, drying, shaving, splitting, re-tanning, dying, stuffing, drying, polishing, ironing, embossing, tumbling, and chemical finishing. Chromium-6 is the most widely used chemical in the tanning process, and workers in tanneries across the world are inhaling this toxic chemical. Populations near these tanneries are then exposed to the chemical via drinking water pollution. River contamination, like that of the Ganges, leads to a toxic food source as the fish and shellfish ingest this and many other industry toxins. Chromium pollution in drinking water has become a global concern. Chromium-3 is a naturally occurring element found in fruits, vegetables, and meat. We need it as a dietary supplement. Chromium-6 is naturally occurring as well through erosion, but is also produced by industrial processes as it is used in the manufacture of stainless steel, dyes and pigments, leather tanning, and wood preserving. The EPA considers chromium-6 to be carcinogenic when ingested. Sustainability saves lives, for millions of people worldwide are exposed to at-risk levels of this chemical. Are there clean leather tanneries? Yes, well, they’re trying. I’m not saying no leather in the world is sustainable, as there are companies that are very conscious of their tanning practices, abide by humane animal treatment regulation, and are developing technologies to minimize pollution. If you are wanting sustainable leather options look for vegetable tanned leather. Natural ingredients replace chemicals in this process. However, there are still many steps to creating your supple leather handbag, and just because one chemical has been swapped out, doesn’t mean the footprint of the product disappears. Tanning is an intensive, high energy consuming process, vegetable or not.

 

Photo Credit: Michal Osmenda



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