Leather can be found in most of the items that we buy and use on a daily basis. From handbags to clothes and automobiles, the material is a sign of luxury and comfort. Unfortunately, our comfort comes at a very high price.
The traditional methods used to process leather are extremely harmful to the environment due to the various chemicals used, however, a group has reported in ACE Sustainable Chemistry & Engineering that there may be a better way to process the material.
This is an interesting prospect considering the fact that it can take up to 12 cow hides to upholster the interior of a vehicle. If we are to also consider the number of handbags produced and sold each day, the situation becomes clear.
Most companies that process leather use vast amounts of sodium sulfide and other chemicals that are then introduced into the environment, in the form of industrial waste.
The new solution to treat the material in a way that does not harm the environment as much requires companies to use ionic liquids, which are basically molten salts at room temperatures.
The group that proposed this alternative experimented with three different goat skins, and tried various substances that could replace the ones that are currently used in the industry. The first skin was processed using normal methods, in order to be used as a control sample. For the second one, the team used an enzyme for removing the hair, and lime for opening the fibers of the goat skin, and in the third process, ionized liquids were used.
While the third method was the safest for the environment, the processed skin was not as durable as the control one, however, the experiment did prove that improvements can be made. The second skin was on par with those that produced using traditional methods and substances, and also managed to eliminate the need to use sodium sulfide and ammonium salts.
Further research may be required in order to use ionic liquids instead of harmful substances, but the experiment did show that there is a better way to process animal skin. If we are to protect the environment, then we must understand how we are harming it.
There are many other industries that still use old, dangerous substances in order to manufacture various products. If companies were to actively research new ways of changing production methods, we would no longer see entire ecosystems destroyed by industrial waste.