Eco alternatives? Science says that only leather is better than leather

Talking about greenwashing: a research by FILK institute unmasks the slogans of some materials, stating that they have a better performance and are much more ecologic than leather. Analysis at hand, it is not like this

Whatever the (many) manufacturers may say, the supposed eco alternatives are not better than leather. And they are not even so ecologic, which is not an insignificant detail. That is because very often materials are totally or partly composed by plastic derivatives. A study by the independent German research institute FILK (Forschungsinstitut für Leder und Kunststoffbahnen) clarifies performance and sustainability hierarchy comparing leather and its imitations. It is called “Trend Alternatives for Leather” and it was shared on the open source scientific platform MDPI (Multidisciplinary Digital Publishing Institute). You can read the full version, clicking here.

Only leather is better than leather

We are just proposing a significant summary here. FILK examined a series of materials “currently endorsed on media as alternatives to leather, under several aspects”. Purpose: “Verifying the technical features” of 9 materials, put at disposal of the German institute by Cotance, the European federation of national tanning associations. The analysis was carried out making physical and chemical tests on plastic materials, as well as on real leather, as a comparison”.

Conclusion is unequivocal. None of the 9 alternative materials can be even equal to leather from the performance point of view and, consequently, as far as durability is concerned. “In particular, the absorption of water vapour and permeability to it showed significantly inferior scores compared with leather”. Which “proved to be superior also in duration tests (resistance to bending and to tearing)”. All of this sounds like a loud denial of many claims and slogans, already. But there is more.

Eco alternatives?

FILK highlights another critical point. These materials “lean on ecological marketing – Cotance explains –, even if they are absolutely not green”. In other words, manufacturers of the alternatives “not only imitate the aspect and the touch of leather, but use the word in a deceitful way, which is not transparent at all for consumers”.

This is something that luckily in Italy is now forbidden, thanks to the Decree come into force on 24th October 2020. However, that is not the one and only problem. Because FILK’s study, after dividing “eco alternatives” into 3 groups, came to a (dramatically) drastic conclusion. The first group has a predominantly natural base, “which does not require addition of plastic components”. But the second and the third one include “mainly plastic components” or, even, the “exclusive use of plastic derivatives, such as PVC or PUR”.

For example

Significant is the case of the so called “cactus leather”. This is a very “relevant example –Cotance reports – because this material is very trendy. In light of the analysis, it was discovered that it contains 65% polyurethane. Namely, this material “is a mixture of natural raw materials (cactus fibres, precisely) and plastic – as indicated in the report –: supporting fabric in polyester, coated twice with polyurethane”.