2024-05-30
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Can vegetable – tanned leather be considered green?

The Genuine Italian Vegetable-Tanned Leather Consortium has measured the average bio-based carbon content in its leathers. Good news: it is 95%.

Can vegetable - tanned leather be considered green?

Vegetable-tanned leather is the result of an ancient artisanal process, handed down from generation to generation with few modifications, based on natural materials: hides, tannins, fats, natural oils, and natural proteins.

What vegetable tanning is

Vegetable tanning has its origins in prehistory and, today, represents a combination of ancient recipes and advanced technology. It is a slow process that leads raw hides to become leather, with total respect for nature.

A process based: on the use of natural tannins from trees; on new technologies; on the slow passage of time. A process that guarantees the absence of toxic substances harmful not only to human beings, but also to the environment.

Vegetable tanning is the most traditional and recognizable process as unique in imparting unmistakable properties, versatility of use and uniqueness of the product to the leather.

Tannin is the foundation of vegetable tanning and is found more or less concentrated in numerous types of trees and plants; it is the tannin that gives vegetable-tanned leather that characteristic uniqueness that makes it so immediately distinguishable. Tannin colorations give warm tones to the leather over time, which tend to resurface. No two leathers are alike.

Is it leather sustainable?

Some argue.

It is hard to say a definitive word on the issue, but it is fair to consider that leather from cattle destined for the food industry is mostly used for vegetable tanning. No animal is slaughtered directly for the tanning of its hides, which, indeed, if not used in the tanning process would go on to cause quite a few disposal problems.

Moreover, since vegetable tanning uses natural tannins, once its life cycle is over, an artifact can be disposed of easily, precisely because of its chemical-biological characteristics.

The cask-fattening phase of the leather
The cask-fattening phase of the leather

The research commissioned by the Consortium, and conducted by chemist Gustavo Adrián Defeo in the laboratories of Ars Tinctoria, aimed to measure the incidence of bio-based carbon (of biological origin) and the presence of petroleum derivatives on samples from the 20 associated Tuscan tanneries, and then compare the results with those obtained from the analysis of some alternative materials.

The need was to demonstrate with scientific data that vegetable-tanned leather points in the direction of circularity.

Ars Tinctoria has developed an innovative technique to measure biomass-derived carbon content and the presence of petroleum derivatives in any type of organic material by SCAR spectrometry, an analysis similar to that used to date archaeological finds. It is thus possible to determine how much biological and how much petroleum-derived part is present in materials expressed by the fashion industry.

Leonardo Volpi - President of the Genuine Italian Vegetable-Tanned Leather Consortium
Leonardo Volpi – President of the Genuine Italian Vegetable-Tanned Leather Consortium

The research confirmed that leathers treated with plant extracts from the Genuine Italian Vegetable-Tanned Leather Consortium achieve, on average, bio-based carbon contents of 95%, placing them in the highest range (80% to 100%) of contemporary bio-based materials, such as cotton and wool.

In contrast, an average of only 25% is present in alternative materials claimed to be sustainable, such as those derived from cactus, pineapple, apple or other types of plants.

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