Assumption 3: “Chrome-tanned leather is an environmental and health hazard”
Nope. Tanning with mineral salts like chrome continues to be the most important tanning method, and more than 80 percent of raw skins are tanned using this procedure. When following all standards, using high-quality tanning agents and a simple process discipline, chrome tanning is no more environmentally damaging than other tanning methods. Chrome also has a few advantages: Due to its molecular composition, the mineral is the most effective tanning agent for leather. Chrome tanning is faster than other processes, and the leather it produces is significantly more thermally stable and twice as tear-resistant as, e.g. vegetable-tanned leather while simultaneously being lighter. Even in the re-tanning process, significantly less re-tanning agents–i.e. chemical substances–are used than in other tanning processes.
Assumption 4: “Vegetable-tanned leather is exceptionally environmentally friendly”
Nope. Every tanning process has advantages and disadvantages with regard to its environmental and health effects. In addition to organic tanning, vegetable tanning methods are experiencing a renaissance. Leather that has been treated with tanning agents made of olive leaves, chestnuts or rhubarb root is trending. The principle behind this ancient tanning method is simple: All plants have a natural tanning agent that prevents decomposition and simultaneously keeps predators at bay. Vegetable tanning agents are based on tannins, like the polyphenols of gallic acid. A fresh plant must be used in order to utilize the vegetable tanning agent from leaves for leather tanning, since the proteolytic effect would otherwise dissipate. The yield for a vegetable tanning agent from bark is somewhat more efficient. Producing a vegetable tanning agent consumes a lot of water and the tanning process is time-consuming. While the chrome tanning process finishes within a few hours, the vegetable tanning process can take a few months.
Assumption 5: “Vegan leather (artificial leather) is environmentally friendlier and healthier than real leather”
Nope. First of all, vegan leather by definition is not leather, since it is not a substrate of animal origin. The replaced materials are made of plastics or alternative natural products. Many characteristics of leather–its tensile strength, robustness, durability and breathability–can hardly be achieved by a replacement material. Such artificial leather is made of oil-based raw materials, and it is not easily biodegradable in nature. Furthermore, chemical substances such as plasticizers need to be used to produce leather alternatives; as such, the natural characteristics of leather cannot be achieved.
Leather has unique characteristics. Ultimately, they combine everything that has developed skin into a natural protective layer for people and animals in thousands of years of evolution. Leather is elastic, tear-resistant with tensile strength, has low flammability, insulates and warms. In addition, it is breathable, which gives it advantages over synthetic products. Leather’s shape and color can furthermore be customized. In short: It is an extremely versatile material. “Leather is a product that is designed for long-term use. People who buy leather shoes should understand that it was actually not designed to be a seasonal product”, says leather expert Dietrich Tegtmeyer and adds: “When cared for properly, leather goods last for decades and even become more charming and attractive at a mature age”. Tegtmeyer is knowledgeable about the luxury material. At the specialty chemicals company LANXESS, he is responsible for development in crusting and leather industry relations.