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12.3 Clothing and Textiles: Question of leather and fur

Author: Meghan Maddock

ABSTRACT: Leather and fur are part of the textile industry that is currently the second largest polluter in the world. It is estimated that the industry is responsible for 10% of the global carbon emissions.

Retrieved from: Compilation of Air Pollutant Emission Factors: January 1995: Volume I.


Both leather and fur have been a main source within the industry, but at a high cost to the environment. The major issues revolving around leather is its need for many highly toxic chemicals and other tanning agents that are then discharged to our aquatic systems. When trying to turn skin to leather you must draw out water molecules from the collagen, to keep it from drying up they soak the skins in tanning agents (N.A. 1995). There are two major ways that you can go about this process either using vegetable tanning, which is more sustainable option because they use natural substances from trees, such as chestnut or oak. The other way, more detrimental to our environment, is of chrome tanning. It is the process of placing animal hides in acidic drums or baths, consisting of an array of chemicals (N.A. 1995). This is a much faster process than vegetable tanning, able to be complete in 1 day, as well as a cheaper alternative. Due to the quick manufacturing process, it makes a thinner fabric that has a much shorter lifecycle (Axesswallets. 2018).

Both American and Canadian government have put regulations on unsafe tanneries resulting in companies using tanneries in third world countries, which are highly affected by this process. Their farmlands are swamped with DYE-tinted wastewater, polluted with chemicals such as lead, arsenic chromium, methyl and formaldehyde, which can cause serious life-threatening health problems (Mavrodin, M & Gheorghe, L & Mocanu, R. 2015). Not only is the chemical process of leather an issue but also the raising of cattle in order to get the hides. Many cattle ranches are the result of deforestation, to raise cattle you need lots of land, food and water which result in land overuse. As well leather industry has a high greenhouse gas emissions, on average cows produced 250-500 litres of methane every day (Common Objective. 2018).

The fur industry is not any better for its impact on the environment but seems to be less popular in today’s society. Many of the factories that make fur pelts are large, high energy consuming facilities. Rarely can pelts be treated all at one factory; instead they are transported all around the globe from the initial trapping of animals, then shipping the pelts to international auctions and on to dressers, then to dyers, then manufacturers, then wholesalers, then to retailers and finally to the consumer (Fur Free Alliance. 2020). The transportation emissions result in a large portion of its carbon footprint, for example a mink skin is the equivalent to the daily footprint of an average Finnish consumer, and a fox fur is approximately 3 days’ worth (Fur Free Alliance, 2020). The treating of fur is also heavily full of an array of chemicals such as heavy metals, solvents, pesticides, formaldehyde etc. There are efforts being done in order to make sustainable options to choose from such as faux leather and fur. An example of faux leather is that it can be made from mushrooms. Although it takes longer to create, it is a much more sustainable option. As well as a plant based faux fur made from corn-based ingredients. It uses 30% less energy and emitting 63% less greenhouse gases (Camilli, S. 2020).


Axesswallets. (2018).“Vegetable Tanned Leather VS Chrome Tanned Leather.”,

Brugnoli, F & Kráľ, I, (2012). Life Cycle Assessment, Carbon Footprint in Leather Processing

Camilli, S. (2020). How Ecopel is making Faux Fur Sustainable

Common Objective. (2018). Fibre Briefing: Leather.”,

Foley, B. (2019) The Fur Debate.

Fur Free Alliance. (2020) Climate Impact,

Mavrodin, M & Gheorghe, L & Mocanu, R.. (2015). Leather Carbon Footprint

N. A. (2017). The Environmental Impact of Fur Farming

N.A. (1995). Compilation of Air Pollutant Emission Factors: Volume I


Meghan Maddock is a third year fashion design student at Ryerson University. She aims to one day create her own line of sustainable fashion that is also affordable.

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