According to a 25-year study commissioned by the US leather industry, hide prices have dropped by 50% during that time, while the number of dairy and beef cattle has remained the same. As a result, if leather usage ends, landfill and greenhouse gas emissions will increase dramatically. Read on to learn more about the implications.
The study highlights that despite a decline in leather sales, the number of cattle raised for meat and dairy production would remain equal. The environmental impact, however, would be significant.
“The burning or disposal in landfills of 33 million unused US hides would generate more than 750,000 metric tons of CO2 emissions every year – and fill all US landfill sites within four years.” - Leather and Hide, Council of America.
The result is a massive pool of waste of 300 million hides and a record-breaking 6.6 million tons of surplus emissions.
As part of its approach to zero waste, the American leather industry assists cattle ranchers by recycling 85% of the hides they produce, compared to a worldwide estimate of 60%––It is inconclusive if these figures take China into account.
This is two-fold, i.e., the direct disposal of waste hides, which contribute to increased emissions and the indirect impact of having to source alternative materials, such as petrochemicals and other materials.
Researcher Dr Gary W. Brester led the project and concluded that from an agricultural and economic standpoint, hides are a by-product from an agricultural and economic perspective. The study also claims that US premium steer hides averaged about US$36 per piece, which equates to about 2.2% of the total value of the animal in recent years. The report also says that cattle numbers have not changed throughout this period, despite hide prices falling by over 50%.
In response to the question of what would happen if leather use completely stopped, Dr Brester said: "We would have an environmental problem."
In a statement about the significance of the report, Leather and Hide Council of America President, Steve Sothmann, mentioned:
“As global populations become more urbanised, we have less understanding of how farming works. This results in misconceptions, for example, that not producing leather would be good for the environment and mean smaller dairy and meat industries. Or at an extreme, there are ‘leather farms’ that raise cattle purely for leather purposes.”
This report establishes economic evidence that hides are not a significant driver of the dairy and meat industries. Furthermore, it shows that ceasing leather will not result in a reduction in cattle production.
In conclusion, The CFLA supports the Leather and Hide Council of America in their finding: cutting out leather will damage the environment, increase waste, cause greenhouse gas emissions, and promote substitutes, which are often cheaper and polluting. To tackle fast fashion and fulfil our collective ESG responsibilities, we need to put sustainability at the centre of our approach in China and worldwide. The CFLA is a platform for discovering a good course of action and having honest and informed discussions.
A full copy of the research report by the Leather and Hide Council of America can be downloaded here.
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