Leather making has been a part of human culture for thousands of years. It’s almost an art form requiring exceptional skills, talent, and experience. In 2019, the global leather industry was valued at over 400 Billion USD. Despite its rich history and its contribution to the global market, it's difficult to ignore the negative impact leather making has on our planet.
In recent years we have seen a growing call for ethical and eco-friendly materials to be used in the fashion industry. This has encouraged some innovative and environmentally conscious entrepreneurs to produce several types of eco-friendly vegan leather varieties. Cactus leather is one of our favorites and, here is why.
What is Cactus Leather?
Cactus leather is a bio-degradable and sustainable vegan leather produced in Mexico with a cactus verity called the prickly pear. Also known as Nopal Cactus.
How is it Produced?
Nopal Cactus is farmed in Mexico. Mature cactus leaves are harvested without damaging the plant. The leaves are then mashed and dried under the sun for about three days. The dried cactus is ground into a powder. It is then mixed in with non-toxic chemicals and shaped into different textures and colors as required by Desserto, the inventors of cactus leather. The resulting product is up to 92% Biodegradable.
Impact of the Natural Leather?
Many claims that leather is a by-product of the global meat industry. While this may be a valid argument, we cannot turn a blind eye to the environmental damage caused by cattle ranching and leather tanning.
Cattle rearing requires large quantities of water, pastureland, and cattle feed. Pastureland must be cleared of trees which leads to mass deforestation. In the last half-century, around 70% of the Amazon rainforest has been cleared to make way for pastures and feed crop production.
Feed crop production also requires massive amounts of water and fertile land. In most cases, the crops are sprayed heavily with pesticides and fertilizer. These chemicals can affect biodiversity by killing insects. When these chemicals get washed into the rivers, it leads to water pollution.
The most polluting aspect of the leather industry is the tanning process. Chromium salts, tanning liquor, and other toxic chemicals such as Cadmium, Lead, Arsenic, etc. are used in this process. These chemicals are toxic and affect the health of the workers. Water pollution is caused when these harmful chemicals are dumped into the rivers without proper treatment.
How is Cactus leather more sustainable?
Nopal Cactus (Opuntia ficus-indica) is a plant that is capable of thriving in harsh conditions. It requires very little water and can grow in soil which, would not support most other plants. Nopal Cactus once native to the southern USA and Mexico naturally regenerate the soil. It has now been introduced around the world to restore degraded land.
In the harvesting of cactus leaves, the plant is undamaged. A plant has a useful life of around eight years. Harvesting of leaves occurs almost semi-annually. The production of one linear meter of cactus leather requires as few as three cactus leaves.
Desserto estimates that the prickly pear needs only around 200L of water to produce 1 KG of cactus, whereas an estimated amount of 2,400L of water is needed to produce 1KG of cotton fiber. These plantations do not require chemical fertilizer or pesticides, further minimizing the impact of farming.
The Nopal Cactus plantations can act as lungs of the earth by producing a net CO2 deficit. The Desserto plantations report (for 14 acres) that an estimated amount of 8,100 tons of CO2 is absorbed per year. These plants only exhale 15.3 tons of CO2 annually.
The natural tanning process used in cactus leather avoids the use of harmful chemicals thereby minimizing pollution.
Is Cactus Leather as Strong and Durable as Natural Leather?
Desserto offers a wide range of leather with different technical specifications but, all cactus leather is strong and durable.
Is it a good substitute for Real Leather?
Definitely. Cactus leather feels and behaves like leather so lends itself to be crafted into beautiful handbags and wallets. The resulting products are durable and of high quality and couses minimal negative impact on the environment.
Image courtesy of: Khara Woods @unsplash