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Is Leather Recyclable? – Everything You Need To Know

If you have an old pair of leather shoes from your grandmother, leather jackets from the 70s, or old purses, bags and belts then you know that leather can stand the test of time. Even leather that’s been left outside or buried can take 50 years or more to completely decompose.

Its no wonder that leather is now 10 times more expensive and now considered a luxury material for its quality and long-lasting properties, However, many people have been asking if their old leather goods are recyclable or not.

We will be answering this question in this updated guide on how you can recycle leather in 2024.

Theres no question, leather is one of the most versatile wearable materials on the planet, but did you know that it’s creating a massive environmental disaster?

The production of leather accounts for around 2% of global greenhouse gas emissions, according to a United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) report.

That’s more than all the world’s transport systems combined.

And that number will only rise as demand increases for high-quality leather goods.

The fate of many animals are at stake in the fight to stop climate change.

But there’s little doubt that livestock production is one of the most significant contributors to global warming, thanks to the methane cows produce in their digestive tracts and the carbon dioxide they exhale while chewing their cud.

But why should you care?

Here are reasons why recycling leather is essential:

Leather Takes Years to Decompose

Leather is obtained from animal skin that has been dried and treated with chemicals to give it its unique texture and appearance.

It can take up to seven years for leather to decompose naturally in a landfill.

This means that if you don’t recycle your old leather products, they will still be there long after we have died off as a species!

Recycling Reduces Global Warming

Tanning animal skins requires large amounts of energy and produces greenhouse gases such as nitrous oxide and methane – both harmful to the environment.

Recycling old leather products reduces these emissions by ensuring that less new raw material needs to be used in their place.

Recycling Reduces Water Pollution

Tanning leather involves using large amounts of water, leading to runoff pollution from processing facilities into nearby rivers and streams.

How to Recycle Leather?

The answer is simple; you can recycle it! Leather is a popular material used to make clothing, furniture upholstery, and fashion accessories.

It’s durable and often made from animal hides or skins that can be reused again.

However, most leather items are sold with a lifetime warranty, so they’re not expected to last forever.

Once you’ve worn out your favorite pair of leather shoes or your coat has become too old to wear, don’t throw it away! Instead, you can recycle your old leather items and create new products.

Why Is Leather So Hard to Recycle?

The main reason why leather cannot be easily recycled is because of its unique characteristics.

Leather can be made from different materials, including cowhide, horsehide, and alligator skin.

These materials must be treated differently to make them suitable for various products.

Leather is made in two main ways: vegetable tanning and chrome tanning.

Vegetable tanning uses tannins from tree bark or other plants to treat the hide with various chemicals and oils that preserve it against decay and rot.

Chrome tanning uses chromium sulphate salts to keep hides by fixing them with chrome salts.

Vegetable-tanned leather has a more natural feel than chrome-tanned leather because of its ability to absorb moisture as human skin does; this is why it’s often used for clothing and accessories like wallets or belts where it’s essential that they feel soft but also durable enough to last through wear and tear over time.

Leather Recycling Options

So it’s no surprise that leather has become an increasingly popular choice for furniture, car seats, and clothing.

But how do you dispose of leather?

There are several options for disposing of leather materials, but most require some preparation in advance.

If you’re not prepared to take the time to dispose of your leather items properly, you can always donate them to charity or throw them away in your regular trash bin.

Here’s how to properly dispose of your leather goods:

  • Donate your old shoes and jackets: If you have any old ones made from leather, consider donating them to a local charity organization that accepts clothing donations. Many organizations accept used clothing donations and turn them into new products or sell them at thrift stores.
  • Donate broken-down furniture: If you have old furniture pieces made from leather (e.g., couches or chairs), consider donating those items if they’re still usable but broken down beyond repair. Again, many charities across the country accept used furniture donations and turn them into new products or sell them at thrift stores.
  • Use it as a rug or bedding material. Some people use old leather rugs for decorating their homes because they are durable and attractive. If you don’t want your rug anymore, you can sell it online or donate it to an animal shelter so the animals can lie on it during the day while they’re waiting for adoption (or even just playing around). You can also turn them into pillows, blankets, and other types of bedding materials that are soft enough for humans but tough sufficient for pets’ claws and teeth (if you have pets).

Is Leather a Natural Fiber?

Sounds simple enough, but the truth is that before leather becomes the soft, supple material we know and love today, it goes through quite a process.

What doesn’t sound so simple is that this “process” is a series of animal-rights issues that are important to consider before you buy any leather products.

Leather comes from the skin of an animal (cows, pigs, goats, and sheep are familiar sources), and most leather you see in stores today has been tanning—a process that involves treating the skin to increase its durability.

The skin undergoes several processes to make it into leather, including dyeing, bleaching, re-tanned using synthetic materials like formaldehyde, de-haired, and vacuum drying.

The tanning process depends on the type of leather produced: for example, alligator, suede, and nubuck are made from the flesh side of cowhides, while top grain and corrected grain come from the hair side.

Legal Policies on How to Dispose of Leather

The United Nations Office of the Environment Program (UNEP) has put together a strategy to reduce the amount of leather waste worldwide.

The first step is to prevent the leather from being wasted in the first place, and this is done by educating people about the importance of recycling leather products.

The next step is to promote the creation of laws that require people to take care of their leather goods and not throw them away when they become damaged or old.

Finally, there should be laws that make it illegal for companies to produce more than they can sell so that excessive amounts of leather goods don’t end up in landfills.

Frequently Asked Question

What can you do with leather waste?

While it is impossible to recycle all leather, some parts can be recycled and reused.

Leather waste can be used for:

  • Handbags, wallets, shoes, and accessories
  • Leather upholstery
  • Leather furniture and sofas

Is leather biodegradable?

Many people believe that leather is biodegradable because it comes from animals.

However, leather does not break down in a landfill or compost pile.

When your leather car seats wear out, and you throw them away, they do not decompose in a landfill.

How best should I recycle leather?

The best way to recycle leather is by repurposing it into something else that is more useful.

If you’re unsure of what to do, you can sell it or donate it to charity.


Recycling leather is a great way to give new life to an old product and help the environment.

However, it’s important to follow these tips to ensure that you’re recycling leather properly.

First, make sure that the leather is clean and dry before taking it to a recycling center.

Second, check with your local recycling center to see if they accept leather.

Finally, be sure to recycle other materials associated with the leather item, such as buttons or zippers.


  • Jen Wheeler

    Jen Wheeler, co-founder of Recycling-Revolution.com, holds degrees from UC Berkeley, Yale, and Stanford. A renowned environmentalist, she's championed sustainable practices at global events and leads EcoBright Solutions, focusing on recycling education and eco-friendly products.

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