Leather & Leather Alternatives
Did you know most vegan leathers on the market are made entirely from synthetic materials? This includes materials like polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and polyurethane (PU), both made from fossil fuels.
Whats the problem?
- It’s derived from finite fossil fuel sources
- The manufacturing is chemically intensive and uses chemicals found on Restricted Substances Lists (RSL)
- It releases dioxins (toxic chemical compounds) into the environment during production
- PVC-based leather incorporates phthalate plasticizers (endocrine (hormonal) disruptors) which are dangerous to humans and ecosystems
- It cannot be recycled and releases toxic chemicals in landfill
Why is PU problematic?
- It’s a synthetic polymer made from petroleum-based chemicals (its raw material is crude oil)
- It uses toxic chemicals, finite natural resources, harmful solvents and high amounts of energy in production
- It releases toxic compounds when waste is burned
- Does not biodegrade at the end of its useful life
Though PU is safer for humans than PVC, it’s still dependent on petrochemical raw materials. In order to make PU workable for a vegan leather it must be turned into a liquid using harsh solvents. These solvents are usually high in volatile organic compounds (VOCs)—harmful to humans and the environment. But, recent advances in chemistry have developed a less toxic process known as water-based polyurethane or polyurethane dispersion (PUD). This involves modifiers and other agents in addition to water, which means PUD is a less toxic and harmful process, although we are aware PUD still relies on petrochemical raw materials and does not biodegrade at the end of its life.
The Problem With Animal Leather
Leather is most commonly made from animal hides from bovine (cow), ovine (sheep) porcine (pig) or caprine (goat). It’s processed into a finished product through a process called tanning. The main issues with sourcing leather are animal slaughter, a largely unregulated industry with intensive chemical processing required and it is difficult to gain transparency to source.Currently, most of the leather alternatives available on the market are fossil fuel-based (a non-renewable resource) and can’t be recycled.
We will never source animal derived skins for leather PANGAIA products.We are committed to discovering and developing innovative leather alternatives that are recyclable or harmlessly biodegradable in the natural environment.
Our stance on synthetics informs our approach to sourcing alternative leathers. As it stands, no single leather alternative meets all of our sustainability requirements, but we are committed to discover and source new innovative alternatives that are high quality and meet the needs of PANGAIA products that use leather alternatives.
Most of the current plant derived leathers are a combination of materials, made by combining biomass waste with polyurethane dispersion (PUD) to improve the physical properties of the material. While the addition of PUD improves the properties of the final material, it stops the material from biodegrading fully, rendering the material more complicated to be recycled.
What We Look For:
- What is the material source?
- Is it recyclable?
- Is it biodegradable?
- Does it have enhanced degradation properties?
- Does the manufacture of the material involve a chemically intensive process?
Leather Alternatives We Work With
Natural Fiber Welding—MIRUM® Leather
MIRUM® leather is 100% bio-based, a composite material with all raw inputs sourced from virgin or recycled plant matter (agricultural waste). Natural inputs such as rubber and cork are sourced from well-managed forests, with FSC certification. MIRUM® has a patented curative which is entirely plant based and sourced from renewable feedstocks. This alternative is completely petrochemical-free and eliminates the dependency on fossil fuels.
Additionally, this material has the capability to be 100% recyclable and 100% circular, when disassembled and entered into the correct waste stream or as a raw material. While MIRUM® as a material itself is fully recyclable, at PANGAIA we are still working on our end of life services for PANGAIA products. We are currently exploring exciting opportunities that provide circular solutions for our products, such as take back, sorting and recycling.
Leather Alternatives We Work With
Vegea is an innovative material characterized by it’s high content of vegetal, renewable and recyclable raw materials: grape skins from winemaking, vegetal oils and natural fibres from agriculture. Vegea’s grape leather utilizes and repurposes waste materials, thereby extending the utility of the grapes and making the winemaking process more circular. The base material is organic cotton, and it uses the most environmentally-responsible form of polyurethane on the market. Unfortunately, the material is not yet biodegradable and is difficult to recycle. With that in mind, PANGAIA have selected specific end-use products for this material, specifically in a product that is low-wash and long-lasting (footwear).