Leather is made from animal skins. It’s widely used for shoes, wallets, purses, jackets, car seats, furniture upholstery, and belts. Most leather comes from pigs or from cattle. The stuff may also come from sheep, ostriches, snakes, and alligators.

Environmental Problems Associated with Tanneries

Whatever the ethical problems related to animal slaughter, people commonly regard leather as a quintessentially natural product. The reality, however, is that animal skin decomposes as readily as flesh, so tanneries must treat it with a variety of nasty substances. The Ecologist asserts that, “Tanning is one of the most toxic industries in the world because of the chemicals involved.”

Tanning chemicals typically include heavy metals and other dangerous substances. They probably pose greater hazards than any of substances used to make vegan leather alternatives.

Animal Cruelty

Leather is not an innocuous karma-free byproduct of the meat industry. A typical steer’s hide provides a significant portion of the carcass’s value. In a low-margin business like cattle ranching, the value of leather therefore inevitably increases the number of cattle each rancher will raise. In other words, the sale of products made from leather puts money into the meat industry’s pockets as surely as does buying meat. Demand for these goods has a clear effect of increasing the total number of animals raised and slaughtered.

Vegan Leather

Luckily there are many alternatives to animal skins. There are vegan belts, shoes, and even “pleather” jackets. And nearly all cars are available with seats made from fabric or synthetics.

Related Reading: Please see our “Why Go Vegan?” essay, and our Animal Ingredients list.

Newsletter Signup

Our newsletter is sent out irregularly and infrequently, because we only want to hit your inbox when we’ve got something compelling to share.