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Here's Why Vegan Leather Isn't Sustainable In The Long Run

The Problem: A majority of proclaimed 'sustainable' vegan leather options on the market contain a mid to high level of plastic content.


And the reason why petroleum based vegan leather isn't sustainable for the long term is because…


Through the observation of the fast fashion trend as an example, urgent solutions need to be deployed to offset it’s massive scale of the take-make-consume-throwaway linear model, as excessive production can lead to unnecessary waste, causing landfills to be full of materials that could have been used more efficiently/wisely on different projects. (Tsironis and Tsagarakis).


rubbish and plastic waste in landfill

Now imagine that petroleum based synthetic leather made of plastic reaches a scale of the fast fashion trend that dominates the fashion industry we see today. That is the direction the vegan leather industry is headed for. By using easy to produce low cost synthetics to sell products at high volumes, our landfills would just keep filling up because plastic takes decades to biodegrade! Hence, the call for a truly biodegradable leather alternative developed with the circular economy in mind is ringing louder than before.


MM #AlternativeLeather: A greater circular solution for the vegan leather economy


MM contributes toward a circular economy through the adoption of an upcycling strategy collaborating with high-end hotel groups. By repurposing high quality end-of-life bed sheets that are destined for landfill, MM transforms this waste material into bespoke #AlternativeLeather (https://www.mm-greentech.com/upcycling). 


This upcycling process significantly reduces scope 2 emissions, because recycling methods such as shredding and reweaving is not required. Furthermore, through the upcycling process, MM negates the excessive raw material consumption of cotton and the needless energy expenditure of recycling processes, increasing production efficiency, and at the same time adding immense product use value whilst completing a cycle of the circular economy.


woven #AlternativeLeather heart cutout on green grass

Designed with biodegradability in mind, MM’s plastic free #AlternativeLeather is made entirely from FSC Paper and BCI Cotton, ultimately having the ability to recirculate unwanted products back into nature safely. Through a biodegradability test (ISO 14855-1) conducted by SGS, MM's #AlternativeLeather achieved a staggering biodegradation result of over 90% under 90 days, certifying that MM’s #AlternativeLeather material is truly environmentally friendly.


assorted MM Limited outdoor product spread #AlternativeLeather

MM has carefully taken the steps to ensure that their plant based #AlternativeLeather promotes a circular economy from the get go. By adopting clean, green and sustainable values within the manufacturing process, MM is redefining sustainable luxury by providing environmentally friendly solutions to brands and enterprises.




So…What is a circular economy and how can the traditional animal leather benefit from a circular economy? And how can the vegan leather industry follow suit?


A circular economy is a sustainable looping model of production and consumption, the main idea of a circular economy is to extend product life cycles through reusing/recycling within the industrial economy as well as safely reintegrating waste back into nature’s ‘economy’ for environmental regeneration. This ensures that materials are reused and the environment stays clean, maximizing the potential of raw materials and creating extra value from newly recycled products (Circular Economy Introduction).


a circular economy diagram

The traditional animal leather industry is one of the highest contributors of the global economy (Kanagaraj et al.) and is considered as one of the most polluting industries, the scale of its material waste and environmental pollution is massive. As producing leather requires heavy chemical operations to convert raw hides and skins into finished leather, it negatively impacts the environment and affects the health of people who work in and live near leather tanneries. Therefore, a good waste management system is needed and is one of the more crucial aspects of aligning the industry with a sustainable circular economic model. Moreover, the industry recognizes that any innovative contribution towards converting animal leather tannery sludge waste into usable energy is of a very high accolade   (Ali et al. ; Moktadir et al.).


There are three main challenges that the traditional animal leather industry faces in the context of a circular economy. Wastewater treatment, energy recovery during production, and chromium recovery and reuse. These challenges outline the sustainable direction required for the industry to move towards circularity(Ali et al.). By re-using treated waste water and chemicals within the production line, the traditional animal leather can gradually transform into a more circular economic practice, saving costs through a more streamlined and energy efficient production process while protecting the environment through the overall reduction of toxic discharge.


aerial photo of a waste water treatment plant

For brands that participate in promoting circular economic practices can expect to receive a positive brand image, long-term competitiveness (Reporter) and enhancement in customer loyalty, as more and more individuals from Gen Z are speaking out with their purchasing decisions, demanding sustainable options over established brand names (“Gen Z Cares About Sustainability More Than Anyone Else – and Is Starting to Make Others Feel the Same Way”).


As 22% of global respondents towards a survey indicate that ‘an affiliation with a big polluter’ is a no go, aligning shared values and the emotional connection towards nature is important for brands to create a loyalty based relationship with their customers that is personal and action-oriented (McKeever).


Therefore, both vegan leather brands and traditional animal leather manufacturers both must consider pivoting to align their values with the sustainability movement to stay relevant by showing their continual commitment in order to grow in parallel with the newer generations. 



So... What is the best way to achieve a circular economy?


It starts at every product's design phase. A product designed for a circular economy creates jobs, boosts economic growth, and stimulates innovation. Minimizing the dependence for imports and mitigating risks associated with supply and pricing. Driving a viable/true solution to put an end to unnecessary excessive waste. (Circular Economy europarl)


A good foresight is key to designing for a product’s long term sustainability and environmental impact. Thus, it is important to fully determine every product’s composition prior to its launch, as every well-designed product created with sustainable values in mind facilitates a circular economy for itself.


What does  a circular economy mean for the world?


We can expect to see clean environments and economic growth as industries of the world transition away from a linear economic model. As less pollutants and less waste will affect our environment, more resources and higher energy efficiency will all lead to a more healthy and sustainable ecosystem and economy.





Author: MM Limited

Date: 11/03/2024





                                                                                                                                                           


CITATIONS:


[1] Tsironis, Georgios, and Konstantinos P. Tsagarakis. “Global Online Networking for Circular Economy Companies in Fashion, Apparel, and Textiles Industries, the LinkedIn Platform.” Current Opinion in Green and Sustainable Chemistry, vol. 41, June 2023, p. 100809. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cogsc.2023.100809.



[3] Circular Economy: Definition, Importance and Benefits | News | European Parliament. www.europarl.europa.eu/news/en/headlines/economy/20151201STO05603/circular-economy-definition-importance-and-benefits.


[4] Ali, Arshid Mahmood, et al. “A Renewable and Sustainable Framework for Clean Fuel Towards Circular Economy for Solid Waste Generation in Leather Tanneries.” Fuel, vol. 351, Nov. 2023, p. 128962. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.fuel.2023.128962.


[5] Moktadir, Md. Abdul, et al. “Circular Economy Practices in the Leather Industry: A Practical Step Towards Sustainable Development.” Journal of Cleaner Production, vol. 251, Apr. 2020, p. 119737. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jclepro.2019.119737.


[6] Kanagaraj, J., et al. “Eco-friendly Waste Management Strategies for Greener Environment Towards Sustainable Development in Leather Industry: A Comprehensive Review.” Journal of Cleaner Production, vol. 89, Feb. 2015, pp. 1–17. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jclepro.2014.11.013.


[7] “Gen Z Cares About Sustainability More Than Anyone Else – and Is Starting to Make Others Feel the Same Way.” World Economic Forum, 18 Mar. 2022, www.weforum.org/agenda/2022/03/generation-z-sustainability-lifestyle-buying-decisions


[8] McKeever, Katie. “How Sustainability Drives Brand Loyalty in 2022.” Ometria, 19 Apr. 2022, ometria.com/blog/how-sustainability-drives-brand-loyalty-in-2022%ef%bf%bc.


[9] Reporter, Guardian Staff. “Five New Ways the Circular Economy Can Build Brand Experience.” The Guardian, 10 July 2014, www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/five-ways-circular-economy-brand-experience.









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