The biodegradability of leather

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Is leather biodegradable?

All leather is biodegradable over the long term, but depending on the tanning method and manufacturing process, this can happen faster or slower. Leather is rich in carbon, nitrogen and oxygen, which bacteria and fungi love to eat.

Before tanning, the animal rawhide degrades and decomposes very quickly. Skins become leather through tanning in the tannery and the tanning process prevents the process of decomposition and makes leather durable and resistant. Durability is one of the main quality features of leather. As leather ages, it becomes more brittle and breaks up into small pieces.




As leather ages, it becomes brittle or cracks.


Under dry conditions, these pieces do not dissolve. Moisture is an important factor in the deterioration of leather. Therefore, books in libraries last a long time, but leather exposed to the elements does not last as long in these conditions.


Leather decay in the contact area with the hair.


However, leather is also pigmented or coated. These substances are mostly polymer-based and some of them are biodegradable, but some, like some types of plastic, do not biodegrade after more than 100 years. Therefore, each type of leather can and must be tested for biodegradability, and in this way, biodegradability can also be promoted by choosing manufacturing processes and chemicals that promote this aspect. In some statistics comparing leather to synthetic matrials, leather is considered to biodegrade in under 50 years and synthetic alternatives take up to 500 years to biodegrade.


Antique leather saddle from a two-wheeler with signs of decay.


Additional information