recycled leather wallet and watch

What Is Recycled Leather? And Why You Should Choose It

These days we get so increasingly bombarded by new eco and sustainable terms that it’s hard to say what’s actually good for the planet and what’s just another marketing buzzword. 

This is a major problem in fast fashion, where brands use greenwashing as much as possible to convince us to keep buying.

So, what is recycled leather? Is it an innovative and sustainable material or just another lie companies are trying to sell us? 

Recycled leather is a sustainable material made from leather scraps. 

Read on to find out more details.

Is Leather Recyclable?

Traditional leather isn’t easily recyclable as it has a complex structure that’s been heavily treated. Still, there are ways to recycle leather scraps and waste into new products, which is the definition of recycled leather.

What Is Recycled Leather and How Is It Made?

Recycled leather is a sustainable and eco-friendly alternative to traditional leather, made by repurposing discarded leather scraps and waste. 

It’s still not vegan, but it has significant advantages. Here are the steps involved in making recycled leather:

  1. Collecting Discarded Materials: They come from different sources, including manufacturing scraps and discarded or obsolete products.
  2. Sorting & Cleaning: The collected leather scraps must be carefully sorted to remove any non-leather elements such as zippers or hardware. After that, they are cleaned to eliminate contaminants and prepare the material for further processing.
  3. Breaking Down and Grinding: The cleaned leather is then broken down into smaller pieces or ground into fine particles. This step helps create a more uniform leather recycling for the next stages.
  4. Binding & Processing: The material is pressed to achieve the desired thickness and texture. Then, surface treatments or coatings may be added to enhance its durability and appearance.
  5. Cutting & Application: Recycled leather sheets can be cut into various shapes and sizes, making them suitable for different applications. For instance, recycled leather is used in fashion, upholstery, or accessories.

Recycled Leather vs Real Leather

Recycled leather differs from real leather in several ways:

  • Source: Real leather is made from animal hides, while recycled leather is made from discarded leather scraps, waste, or unused items. In essence, recycled leather repurposes the leftovers, reducing the need for new resources.
  • Environmental Impact: Traditional leather has significant environmental drawbacks, including deforestation for grazing land, water pollution from tanning chemicals, and substantial energy consumption. In contrast, recycled leather is a lot more eco-friendly. You can check all the details in the next section. 
  • Ethical Concerns: The leather industry faces serious ethical concerns around animal welfare. And while recycled leather isn’t exactly free from those, its manufacturing doesn’t directly rely on animal exploitation. Instead, it relies on repurposing existing materials that would otherwise be thrown away. 
  • Production Process: Making real leather is a complex and resource-intensive process, contributing to environmental pollution. Making recycled leather is a lot more eco-friendly.
  • Quality & Durability: Real leather is famous for its premium quality. Fortunately, technological advancements ensure renewed leather durability around the same level.

So, what’s there not to love about recycled leather? It offers the same quality with much less drawbacks. Let’s explore the benefits further. 

recycled leather bag

Environmental Benefits of Recycled Leather

Recycled leather has numerous environmental benefits that can contribute to more eco-friendy fashion: 

  • Less Waste: Minimizing the waste that goes into landfills is no small feat. By repurposing discarded scraps, recycled leather significantly reduces the environmental burden of traditional leather disposal.
  • Resource Conservation: By utilizing existing materials, recycled leather leads to less demand for new resources, which in turn conserves habitats and ecosystems.
  • Less Energy: Manufacturing recycled leather requires less energy compared to traditional leather production. This results in a smaller carbon footprint and more energy-efficient production.
  • Fewer to No Harsh Chemicals: Recycled leather fabric contains fewer or no harsh chemicals, contributing to cleaner water systems and reduced chemical pollution.
  • Less Greenhouse Emissions: The carbon footprint of recycled leather is generally lower than that of traditional leather.
  • Promoting a Circular Economy: Recycled leather embodies the principles of a circular economy by extending the lifespan of materials that would otherwise be discarded. This contributes to a more sustainable and responsible approach to resource use and consumption.
  • Promoting Sustainable Materials: The more we adopt materials like recycled leather, the more we will seek sustainable choices and products with less environmental footprint.

By choosing recycled leather, we contribute to a circular economy, reduce waste, conserve resources, and pave the way for a more environmentally conscious and responsible fashion.

Applications of Recycled Leather

Recycled leather offers a sustainable alternative for many industries. Let’s explore the possibilities:

  • Fashion Industry: Designers can use recycled leather for clothing, footwear, and accessories. From jackets and handbags to shoes and belts, this material is a stylish and sustainable choice for eco-conscious consumers. It’s the opposite of fast fashion practices.
  • Furniture and Upholstery: Recycled leather has gained popularity in furniture design and upholstery. It offers a durable and attractive option for sofas, chairs, and other home furnishings, providing us with eco-friendly interior choices.
  • Automotive Industry: Recycled leather is used for interiors, including seats, steering wheel covers, and door panels. This aligns with sustainability goals and enhances the appeal of the vehicle for environmentally conscious car buyers.
  • Shoes and Boots: Footwear brands are using recycled leather fabric as a sustainable option without compromising on comfort or style. From casual shoes to high-end boots, recycled leather is making strides in the shoe industry.
  • Phone Cases and Laptop Sleeves: The durability and appeal of recycled leather make it a preferred choice for sustainable phone cases and laptop sleeves.

As more and more industries look for sustainable alternatives, recycled leather will continue to grow in popularity. Whether in fashion, automotive design, or furniture, recycled leather is proof that sustainability and style can coexist, paving the way for more environmentally conscious material choices.

Disadvantages of Recycled Leather

While recycled leather is definitely a strong eco-friendly choice, the material also has some limitations:

Durability and Longevity: Recycled leather may not always match the durability and longevity of traditional leather. Depending on how it’s made and the quality of the recycled material, it might not be as long-lasting.

Limited Availability: Recycled leather is a by-product of leather production, and as such it is limited. If the demand for this sustainable material grows, brands may not be able to meet it.

Still, we should encourage the adoption of sustainable materials like recycled leather. They might not be perfect, but they’re a great alternative to throwing away perfectly good pieces of leather. 

Is Recycled Leather Sustainable? 

Sustainability is not black and white. Still, if we had to measure up the materials, we’d say that recycled leather is pretty sustainable. It reduces the environmental impact of leather disposal, conserving resources, energy, and reducing emissions. Also, many recycled leather products are made with eco-friendly adhesives. As technology advances and awareness grows, recycled leather can become a widespread sustainable choice. 


What is upcycled leather?

Upcycled leather is repurposing discarded leather materials or products, transforming them into new items. Unlike recycled leather, upcycled leather either preserves the original form of the pieces or modifies it into higher-value products.

What is eco-friendly leather?

Eco-friendly leather is a sustainable and environmentally conscious alternative to traditional leather. Its production aims at minimizing environmental impact through practices like vegetable tanning, reduced chemicals, and recycled or renewable materials.

What is regenerated leather?

Regenerated leather, also known as reconstituted leather, is made by combining leather fibers with binding agents. This process utilizes leather scraps and byproducts, contributing to sustainability by reducing waste. In contrast, recycled leather reuses the material without necessarily breaking down the fibers. 

What is bonded leather? 

Bonded leather is a material made by combining leftover leather scraps with polyurethane or other bonding agents. It is then pressed into sheets, creating an affordable alternative to genuine leather. While it mimics the look of leather, bonded leather may have reduced durability and is not as environmentally friendly as other alternatives.

Is bonded leather vegan?

Bonded leather is not vegan. It contains actual animal leather scraps combined with bonding agents.

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