Cow Leather

Cows account for 70% of the world’s leather production.

Once dairy cows are no longer profitable, they are then sold to be slaughtered and skinned. This practice includes slaughtering unborn calves, their mothers, and even cows that are not used in the supply chain for meat consumption or dairy production. Globally, the demand for leather products is projected to be a $128.61 billion industry by 2022, way higher than the 2018 figure of $95.4 billion. Further, the United States, by 2022, is projected to also capture just more than 10% of the industry or about $13.1 billion. As consumers, we have a significant stake in the health of the leather industry.

From footwear to automobile seats, leather products are intertwined with everyday life. As one may suspect, countries like China, Brazil, Italy, Russia and India are the leading exporters of leather products. In fact, the Ministry of Food Processing Industries and the Council for Leather Exports have found that leather exports in India are ten times greater than its meat exports. The implication is, essentially, cows, in India, are being killed purely for their skin. This is despite the large Hindu population and positive symbolism often association with cows. Clearly, the religious connotations are not superseding market forces.

When firms manufacture leather from cowhides, many deadly toxins are released. In the United States, most leather is produced by chrome-tanning. Chrome-tanning uses chemicals such as tar, formaldehyde, and dyes that produces a lethal byproduct — chromium. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the waste creates “dead zones”. Dead zones are run-off chemicals that result in the “overgrowth of plant life in water systems”. This overgrowth of plant life depletes oxygen levels and alters the ecosystem irreparably.

However, the damage doesn’t stop there. Often, workers in nearby tanneries are at risk for higher rates of cancer due to exposure of these chemicals. For example, in Kentucky, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that residents were five times more likely to develop leukemia than the average person in the United States, simply because they lived in the same vicinity. Similarly, in a medical report, several doctors stated that childhood leukemia could be a preventable disease if public health awareness about the dangers of certain chemicals was more well known.

Even if you consider alternatives — such as, vegan leather —it is still terrible. Although no cows are being slaughtered, it is produced synthetically with use of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and polyurethane. These plastics leach overtime, which are harmful to consumers and the environment. However, the advantage of vegan leather is the ability to source products in a less harmful manner.

To elaborate, better sources do exist to buy leather, whether it be from animal products or faux. In Fez, Morocco, tanning is produced less harmfully. The skin is soaked in a cow urine mixture and then pigeon poop mixture before being colored by natural vegetable dyes and dried in the sun. For vegans, Stella McCartney has pursued Eco Faux Leather targeted to make faux leather from biodegradable, non-toxic materials.

Simply put, we encourage consumers to understand and research products before they buy them. I know I will not be buying leather products anytime soon.

Micro-Plastics & Jeans

Everyone loves a good pair of jeans.

In 2013, Levi’s created their “Waste Less” collection. In their collection, 20% of the jeans are comprised of recycled water bottles and post-consumer plastic. They state that each pair of jeans, use an average of three to eight plastic water bottles. Since their launch, the company has used 11.9 million recycled bottles for various products.

Levi Strauss & Co. is an environmental leader in the clothing industry. They were committed to both (1) reducing their companies water footprint due to growing water constraints for cotton production, and (2) decreasing their role in the buildup of non-biodegradable plastics.

Despite recycling infrastructure that exists in order to facilitate the recycling of these bottles, according to the Container Recycling Institute, 86% of plastic water bottles used in the US become garbage that ends up in landfills throughout the country. Considering that approximately 60 million plastic water bottles are used every day in the US, we can assume that nearly 18,834,000,000 end up in the landfill each year. Each bottle can take up to 700 years to decompose.

Hannah Ellsbury at Ban The Bottle

Yesterday, I went shopping at Marshall’s and I was excited to make a green consumer choice. With a little research, I was able to help prevent excess plastic bottles from ending up in our landfills. This isn’t to say that the system is perfect — but it is a step in the right direction.

In fact, Madewell closes the jean recycling loop with their Blue Jeans Go Green project. Here, they collect old denim donations and produce housing insulation. Between these two companies, buying denim made out of water bottles that will later be turned into housing insulation sounds perfect.

However, if the denim is no longer 100% cotton then it isn’t biodegradable or benign to our waters. This denim like other synthetic fabrics — such as nylon, polyester, and spandex — contain micro-plastics. When we wash our clothes, these plastics leak into our water systems. These micro-plastics are too small for standard filtration systems because they can be as tiny as 5 millimeters in length. Also, if they leak into our water systems, they also leak into our oceans when we wash our clothes.

The UN News reports that there are as many as 51 trillion micro-plastic particles that litter our oceans. To put that in perspective, that is 500 times all the stars in our galaxy, but as micro-plastics in the sea. So, maybe the answer is not recycling, but reducing and eliminating unnecessary use of plastic, especially water bottles.