One project has developed a novel approach to leather recycling, addressing issues behind new leather production and contributing to a circular economy
Spotted: Leather is a widely used material within the fashion industry, but conventional production processes pose health, safety, and sustainability concerns. And traditional leather recycling, which uses synthetic materials to create regenerated composite materials that are neither biodegradable nor recyclable, does not offer a full solution.
To address these issues, the Hong Kong Research Institute of Textiles and Apparel (HKRITA), with the support of the H&M Foundation, has developed a new approach. The reProLeather project is a recycled leather system that sorts and recycles post-consumer leather products into useful raw materials for the creation of new, circular products.
To do this, reProLeather makes use of bio-based binders and eco-friendly chemicals. The first step involves shredding old leather products into pieces until pure and high-quality leather fibres are obtained. Meanwhile, chromium (a harmful chemical residue that is carried through the conventional recycling process) is transformed into soluble salts or other complex compounds and thereby removed. The separated fibres then react with bio-based binders, including sugar and protein, under mild conditions. The resultant collagen fibres can then be blended with leather scraps to create a new leather sheet. This regenerated leather is water-resistant, recyclable, and biodegradable.
In the research stage, the reProLeather project successfully transformed post-consumer leather goods into new leather sheets. Now, HKRITA is looking for suitable industry partners to optimise the process and make it commercially viable.
While reProLeather uses leather waste, Springwise has spotted many innovations looking to create sustainable leather alternatives, like an alternative made from beer brewing waste or one made from banana fibres.
Written By: Anam Alam