Is Vegan Leather Biodegradable?

One of the most prevalent struggles related to living sustainably is deciding on whether to do away with certain items entirely or looking for eco-friendly versions of them. In fact, great is this struggle that manufacturers are constantly trying to create eco-friendly versions of everything, even leather.

This has led to the rise of vegan leather – a type of leather that claims to eliminate the animal component.

But what is vegan leather exactly? And does it even biodegrade?

Well, you’re about to find out.

What is vegan leather?

As its name suggests, vegan leather is a type of leather produced without the involvement of any animals. However, there are different kinds of vegan leather, each made from a different material.

Some of the materials used in the production of this leather include:

  1. Plastic: Most of the vegan leathers on the market today are either made entirely of plastic or blended with a significant amount of it. The most popular types of plastic used to make this leather are Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) and Polyurethane (PU).
  2. Pinatex: Pinatex is a material made from pineapple leaves that is revolutionizing the vegan leather space. It is popularly used by sustainable sneaker brands like No Saints and EcoAlf.
  3. Frutmat/Pellemela/Apple leather: While quite similar to Pinatex, Frutmat is made from scrap cores and peels from the apple juice industry. This type of leather is popularly used by the shoe brand Veerah.
  4. Cork leather: Originating from cork oak trees native to the Mediterranean, this type of leather is created in an eco-friendly way. The cork is harvested in a way that doesn’t harm the tree and it is processed by simply boiling. Afterward, it is flattened into sheets and some plant-based dyes may be added.
  5. Mirum: This material is 100% natural and is made from mixing waste coconut oil, vegetable oil, hemp, and cork.
  6. MuSkin: This material is made from special mushrooms known as Phellinus ellipsoideus. It is absorbent and resists bacteria. Currently, there are already some companies using it to make shoes.
  7. Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast (SCOBY): When this bob of bacteria is dried, it becomes a leather-like material that can then be used to make clothes and shoes.

Does vegan leather biodegrade or decompose?

Since most of the vegan leather on the market contains plastic, it doesn’t fully biodegrade or decompose. Even pinatex leather has a petroleum-based coating that makes it non-biodegradable.

If you want biodegradable vegan leather, you have to go out of your way to get those made of 100% natural products – something like Cork, Mirum, or Muskin.

How long does natural leather take to decompose?

While natural leather is generally biodegradable, it takes 25-50 years to decompose.

On the other hand, plastic vegan leather can last up to a thousand years. And when it does start to degrade, it breaks down into harmful microplastics.

Go for 100% natural vegan leather

If you want to significantly lower your carbon footprint, it is better to go for vegan leather that is 100% natural and manufactured in an environmentally friendly way. Otherwise, you may save the animals but doom the oceans.

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