New LHCA infographic shows true environmental cost of synthetics

United States
Published:  27 February, 2020
Picture: Priscilla du Preez

A new infographic from the Leather and Hide Council of America (LHCA) aims to shine a light on the environmental costs of using synthetics, mostly made from plastics and other non-renewable sources, as opposed to real leather in finished consumer goods. 

The initiative aims to educate about the durability, versatility and beauty, and above all, the sustainability of real leather and eradicate common misconceptions. “What is fashionable can also be sustainable,” says LHCA President Stephen Sothmann. “As consumers, retailers and brands weigh the versatility, beauty, durability and sustainability of leather compared to its imitations, it’s clear: there’s simply no substitute for real leather.”
A key message of the infographic is that processing hides from livestock into leather is one of the oldest forms of recycling, a natural by-product of meat and dairy consumption, however, the recent rise of synthetics in consumer products, and shift away from real leather, risk disrupting this critical recycling process and causing irreparable environmental damage.

Millions of hides to landfill
According to the LHCA, in 2019, U.S. Department of Agriculture data indicates that the U.S. processed more than 33 million head of cattle for food. U.S. export data and industry estimations suggest that approximately 27.5 million of the more than 33 million available U.S. cattle hides were used in domestic and global leather production. This means nearly 5.5 million hides, or 17% of total U.S. hide production, were either destroyed or discarded in landfills – a number that will likely increase if trends continue in the use of synthetics to produce finished goods in place of real leather. Those 5.5 million discarded or destroyed hides could have instead been used to produce leather for approximately 99 million pairs of shoes, 110 million footballs or two million sofas.
“There is no better, more environmentally-friendly alternative to using hides from animals processed for food than to make real leather,” says Sothmann. “Without the leather industry, nearly two billion pounds of unused cattle hides would be diverted to landfills, placing tremendous pressure on the environment that would be further compounded by the shift to synthetic imitations produced from plastic and other non-renewable sources”.

The new infographic, along with additional information about the sustainability of real leather, can be found on usleather.org and using the hashtag #chooserealleather.