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Recycled Leather – Making Leather Sustainable

Many different types of leather are available today, but how does one choose? If you’re interested in sustainable options, there’s something just for you. I will discuss recycled leather and how it is not just more environmentally friendly — but a good choice.

Recycled leather is a material made from waste products and leather trimmings. Created in 2013, recycled leather has many uses, from bags and wallets to aircraft interiors. Materials cost between $27–$48 per yard and products are significantly cheaper than real leather with similar durability.

Are you looking to replace a leather wallet but interested in something more sustainable? Do you want a new leather couch but need to save some money? Let’s look at recycled leather and why it may be the right option for you.

What Is Recycled Leather?

Recycled leather is material made from scrap leather pieces and waste products from tanneries and shops. When leather is processed and tanned, it is trimmed into shapes creating leather scraps. These leather scraps are then broken down and reconstituted to create new leather pieces.

When leather is processed and tanned, it is trimmed into shapes creating leather scraps.

What We’ll Explore

  • Clearing up Myths & Misconceptions
  • The History of Recycled Leather
  • Why You Might Like Recycled Leather
  • Recycled Leather Overview Table
  • Popular Types and Styles of Recycled Leather
  • Common Recycled Leather Characteristics
  • Recycled Leather Costs
  • Pros of Recycled Leather
  • Cons of Recycled Leather
  • Recycled Leather Manufacturing Process – How They’re Made
  • Experienced Tips for Choosing Recycled Leather
  • My Personal Research with Recycled Leather
  • Recycled Leather Care and Maintenance
  • Helpful Insights on Recycled Leather
  • Key Takeaways
Scraps of Leather to Recycle - Recycled Leather - Liberty Leather Goods
Scraps of Leather to Recycle

Clearing Up Myths & Misconceptions

One misconception about recycled leather is that it is considered real leather. However, recycled leather is only about half real leather held together with a faux leather coating to protect it. Another misconception is that recycled leather can be purchased locally. The truth is most recycled leather is made in Asia, but many manufacturers make it available online.

The History of Recycled Leather

Leather products have been made for thousands of years, with the leather industry coming about in the Middle Ages. It has produced a great deal of waste since that time, and around 1998 with the sustainability movement, people started looking at ways to make leather more environmentally friendly. 

Recycling leather began with using the originally discarded trimmings to create leather accessories and other small products. Over the years, different methods of breaking down and reconstituting leather scraps have changed and evolved, with at least a dozen ways being used as of 2017.

Now one can find recycled leather in many places, from online purchases by the yard to big brand name products producing entire lines of recycled leather goods. 

Why You Might Like Recycled Leather

Recycled leather is a great product for many reasons. First, it is made from leather scraps and cuttings that would otherwise be thrown in a landfill — so it’s more environmentally friendly. Leather scraps can be used in many different ways, and some methods create recycled leather that is even more durable than original, real leather. 

Recycled leather can also be dyed to any color one likes, giving more options for great products, from bags to vehicle interiors. It’s also significantly cheaper than real leather, making it a more affordable option. If one is a fan of sustainability, recycled leather is the way to go.

Recycled Leather Overview Table

Recycled Leather CharacteristicDetails
ItemRecycled Leather
UsesUpholstery, shoes, vehicle interiors, aircraft interiors, bags, wallets, and more
Common MaterialsLeather scraps and fibers, latex, faux leather, polyurethane (PU)
Popular ColorsBrowns, reds, blacks, grays, greens, whites
Sizes1 yard up to full-size couches
Popular StylesColorful, different finishes and textures,
Cost Range ($)$27–$48 per yard
How Long it Lasts (on average)6 months–20 years
Recycled Leather Characteristics

Popular Types and Styles of Recycled Leather

Recycled leather is much like faux leather because it is a versatile material used for many products. Because of its high durability and lightweight properties, it is now a popular choice for airplane interiors and other mass transit. Recycled leather is also popular for leather goods like: 

  1. Wallets
  2. Bags
  3. Vehicle interiors
  4. Clothing
  5. Shoes
  6. More

Common Recycled Leather Characteristics

Materials

Recycled leather begins with leather scraps ground down into fibers or powder. This is then mixed with latex, faux leather, and polyurethane (PU) coating. This results in a material that is 25–50% real leather, 25–35% natural fibers, and 10% synthetic coating.

Sizes

Recycled leather comes in many sizes, from a yard of material to larger sizes for furniture like couches and chairs and vehicle interiors.

Variations

Because of how recycled leather is made, many variations are available, offering different thicknesses and textures and every color of the rainbow.

Key Uses

Recycled leather can be used for many high-use items, including: 

  1. Vehicle interiors
  2. Aircraft interiors
  3. Upholstery
  4. Shoes
  5. Bags
Key Wallet Made of Genuine Brown Nubuck Leather - Nubuck Leather - Liberty Leather Goods
Recycled leather (even smaller, quality leftover pieces from another project) can be used for wallets and small accessories

Recycled Leather Costs

Recycled leather costs vary by size and type of product. Sheets of recycled leather cost anywhere from $27–$48 per yard but have many different options for colors and textures. A pair of recycled leather sneakers cost $45–$150, and similar real leather sneakers cost $70–$160. In most cases, the prices for recycled leather products are significantly lower than their real leather counterparts.

Pros of Recycled Leather

Recycled leather is a good product because it is available in many colors and styles. It smells and feels like real leather, has a smooth texture, and is much cheaper than genuine leather. Depending on how it is made, some recycled leather products can last up to 20 years. In some cases, recycled leather is considered sustainable.

Cons of Recycled Leather

Recycled leather is considered bonded leather, which is less durable than real leather. It’s only 25%–50% real leather plus faux leather and polyurethane (PU) coating. Some recycled leather is easily damaged with scratches or peeling in a shorter time than faux or real leather. 

Recycled Leather Manufacturing Process – How They’re Made

According to research by Li, Guo, Lu, and Zhu on utilizing solid leather waste, the process of manufacturing recycled leather is quite complex and has gone through many challenges and developments to make the leather-making process less wasteful. It begins with solid waste from leather production, including hair, sludge, chrome-containing solids, untanned solids, and finished leather trimmings. 

The leather trimmings, chrome-containing solids, and untanned solids are soaked in a softener and pulverized to release leather fibers. It is then spun to collect the fibers, a dye can be added at this stage, and an adhesive is mixed in to prepare a slurry. A web of materials is formed and dried, and the mixture is compressed to create a finished (recycled) leather material.



To learn more about bonded leather, check out this helpful video from Rose Anvil.

Experienced Tips for Choosing Recycled Leather

Frequency of Use

When considering recycled leather, frequency of use is a significant determining factor due to its durability. Some recycled leathers are more durable than others, so frequent-use items should stand the test of time. Research the companies that provide recycled leather to know how it’s made.

Environment/Conditions of Use

Recycled leather is usually reasonably durable, but it’s important to consider the environment it will be used in. Moisture is the enemy of most leathers, including recycled leather, so if there will be exposure, plan to protect it with a waterproofing spray or leather conditioner. Proper maintenance and storage are key in maintaining recycled leather.

Cost

Recycled leather costs significantly less than real leather products, but cheaper doesn’t always mean better. Choose a recycled leather product that is affordable and durable. Proper maintenance will make the savings worthwhile in the long run.

Trends

Sustainability is considered trendy by some, and recycled leather is both of those things. Choose a recycled leather product not because it’s trendy but because it fits your style.

Personal Preference

Personal preference is important when choosing recycled leather products; thankfully, there are almost limitless options for this material. Choose the styles, colors, textures, and items that fit the room, taste, and personal style for the best fit.

My Personal Research with Recycled Leather

So, what kind of prices can one expect for recycled leather products? I researched and compiled some frequently purchased recycled leather items along with price ranges.

Recycled Leather ItemPrice Range
Women’s recycled leather wallet$11–$255
Men’s recycled leather wallet$10–$132
Recycled leather sneakers$45–$150
Recycled leather bags$15–$295
Recycled leather armchair$120–$1,229
Recycled leather couch$170–$650
The Cost of Recycled Leather Goods

Recycled Leather Care and Maintenance

Recycled leather is very similar to faux leather; therefore, its care and maintenance are similar.

How To Clean Recycled Leather

Recycled leather should be cleaned regularly with mild soap and water or a faux leather cleaner. A microfiber towel or old t-shirt can be used with either cleanser. Use only gentle products to maintain the faux leather coating. Avoid getting recycled leather too wet and air dry completely before applying faux leather conditioner and protectant.

How To Maintain Recycled Leather

Recycled leather is best maintained with regular cleaning and conditioning and proper storage. It must be protected from direct sunlight, moisture, and temperature extremes. Apply UV protectant or mineral oil and avoid any items that may scratch or puncture recycled leather.

How To Store Recycled Leather

Recycled leather must be stored out of direct sunlight and in a temperature-controlled area. Cover recycled leather with a plastic cover or cloth to protect it from dust and debris. Then take it out regularly to clean and condition the material so it maintains its quality. 

Helpful Insights on Recycled Leather

Is recycled leather real leather?

Recycled leather is considered faux leather because of how it’s made. It only contains between 25–50% real leather that has been broken down and reconstituted. It is bonded with polyurethane (PU) or polyvinyl chloride (PVC), much like faux leather.

Is recycled leather any good?

Recycled leather is considered a good product because it is as durable as faux leather, has the same look and feel, and costs much less than real leather. Recycled leather comes in many colors and styles and can be used for furniture, handbags, accessories, and more.

What is recycled leather?

Recycled leather is made from scrap leather created through tanning and processing. It is broken down and reconstituted, then bonded with PU or PVC to hold it together. Recycled leather is considered bonded leather.

Where does recycled leather come from?

Recycled leather is a byproduct of the leather tanning and processing industry. When the leather is trimmed, rather than throwing the trimmings into a landfill, they break the trimmings down and reconstitute them to make new leather. This is considered bonded leather and is a more sustainable practice.

Can vegans wear recycled leather?

Vegans probably wouldn’t wear recycled leather because it does contain some real leather. It may be as little as 25% real leather, but it’s still considered an animal product. Vegans would prefer true faux leather over recycled leather because many faux leathers do not contain any animal products.

How long does recycled leather last?

Some recycled leathers are less durable than real leather, but they can last anywhere from two to five years with proper care. Others are more durable and can last up to 20 years. It is a bonded leather that can be scratched, but it is a good quality product with regular cleaning and protectants.

Does Nike use recycled leather?

Yes – Nike started a recycled leather line called Flyleather for athletic shoes in 2017. It was created to be more sustainable, uses much less water, and has a carbon footprint that’s 80% less than their real leather manufacturing process. In fact, the Flyleather line is said to be more durable and lighter than their real leather shoes.

Key Takeaways

  1. Recycled leather is made from leather scraps that are reconstituted for sustainability.
  2. Recycled leather is considered bonded leather.
  3. Some recycled leather is more durable than real leather.

In Closing

Buying recycled leather is a great choice for ethical and sustainability reasons, but always research the companies that produce those items. Recycled leather has pros and cons, just like every other type of leather. With proper maintenance and care, some recycled leather items can last a long time and give the look and feel of real leather. 

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