Leather Chemicals and Their Impact on the Environment

Leather Chemicals and Their Impact on the Environment

Table of Contents
Table of Contents

Leather is a versatile and timeless material that has been used for centuries to create beautiful products, from shoes to handbags to furniture. However, the manufacturing of leather involves the use of a wide range of chemicals that can have a negative impact on the environment.

According to recent statistics from the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the leather tanning industry is responsible for producing more than 600 million tons of waste each year. This waste includes chemicals, heavy metals, and other pollutants that can harm the environment and human health.

As the demand for leather products continues to grow, it is essential to find strategies for improving the efficiency of leather manufacturing while reducing its environmental impact. One critical area for improvement is the use of leather chemicals.

Leather Chemicals and Their Impact on the Environment
Leather Chemicals and Their Impact on the Environment

In this article, we will explore the various types of leather chemicals and their impact on the environment. So, grab your leather jacket, and let's dive into the world of leather chemicals!

Here's what we shall cover in this post:

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Understanding Leather Manufacturing Chemicals

Leather manufacturing involves the use of various chemicals to transform animal hides and skins into finished leather products. These chemicals are used at different stages of the manufacturing process, such as preservation, tanning, dyeing, and finishing.

Chemicals in leather manufacturing are necessary to achieve the desired properties of the finished leather, such as softness, durability, and color. However, some of these chemicals can pose health and environmental risks if not handled properly.

It is important for leather manufacturers to understand the properties and potential risks associated with these chemicals and to take appropriate safety measures to protect workers and the environment.

This may include proper storage and handling procedures, using protective equipment such as gloves and respirators, and implementing waste management practices to prevent environmental contamination.

Additionally, manufacturers should strive to use safer and more environmentally friendly chemicals whenever possible.

Types of Chemicals Used in Leather Manufacturing

Understanding the different types of chemicals used in leather manufacturing is important for both manufacturers and consumers.

Pre-tanning Chemicals

  • Pre-tanning chemicals are used to prepare the raw hides for further processing.
  • Liming agents are used to removing hair and other proteins from the hides.
  • Deliming agents are used to neutralizing the pH of the hides after liming.
  • Bating agents are used to soften the hides and improve their elasticity.

Tanning Chemicals

  • Tanning chemicals are used to turn the protein in the hides into stable leather.
  • Chromium salts are the most common tanning agents used in modern leather manufacturing.
  • Other tanning agents include vegetable tannins, aldehydes, and synthetic tanning agents.

Dyeing Chemicals

  • Dyeing chemicals are used to color the leather.
  • Acid dyes are commonly used for leather dyeing, as they provide good colorfastness and uniform dye penetration.
  • Basic dyes are used for bright and intense colors, but they have poor lightfastness and are not suitable for outdoor use.

Finishing Chemicals

  • Finishing chemicals are used to give the leather its final appearance and properties.
  • Fatliquors are used to improve the leather's softness, flexibility, and water resistance.
  • Resins and waxes are used to improve the durability and glossiness of the leather.
  • Pigments are used to cover up blemishes and provide uniform color to the leather.

Other Chemicals

  • Other chemicals used in leather manufacturing include preservatives, fungicides, and bactericides.
  • These chemicals are used to prevent the growth of microorganisms that can cause the leather to degrade.

Environmental Concerns Surrounding Leather Chemicals

Leather is a popular material used for clothing, accessories, and furniture. However, the process of tanning leather involves the use of various chemicals that can have harmful environmental effects.

Leather manufacturers need to understand these environmental concerns and take steps to minimize their impact. Here are some of the environmental concerns surrounding leather chemicals:


Many of the chemicals used in leather manufacturing are toxic to humans and wildlife. They can cause skin and respiratory irritation and more serious health effects with prolonged exposure. Additionally, these chemicals can enter the environment through wastewater and landfills, potentially contaminating water sources and harming wildlife.


Disposing of the chemicals used in leather manufacturing can be challenging. They cannot be simply thrown away, as they can be hazardous to people and the environment. Therefore, proper disposal methods, such as incineration or specialized hazardous waste disposal facilities, must be used.

Water Usage

The tanning process requires a significant amount of water, which can put a strain on local water sources. Additionally, the chemicals used in tanning can contaminate wastewater, which requires treatment before it can be released back into the environment.

Energy Usage

The process of tanning leather is energy-intensive, with significant energy required to heat and cool the water used in the process. This energy usage can contribute to greenhouse gas emissions and climate change.

Chemical Regulations

Certain chemicals in leather manufacturing are regulated by governmental bodies such as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Manufacturers must ensure that they comply with these regulations to avoid fines and legal consequences.

To address these concerns, leather manufacturers can take steps to reduce their environmental impact. For example, they can use more environmentally friendly tanning methods, such as vegetable tanning, which uses natural plant extracts instead of harsh chemicals.

Manufacturers can also implement water conservation measures and invest in renewable energy sources to reduce their energy usage.

Additionally, they can work to improve their chemical management practices to minimize the use and disposal of hazardous chemicals.

Hazardous Chemicals Used in Leather Manufacturing

Here are some of the hazardous chemicals used in leather manufacturing:


Chromium is the most commonly used chemical in leather manufacturing, particularly for tanning. Chromium tanning produces soft, supple leather that is durable and resistant to water.

However, chromium is a toxic metal that can cause cancer and other health problems. Its use in leather manufacturing has been a subject of concern, and several initiatives have been taken to reduce its impact on the environment and workers.

  • Hexavalent Chromium: The main concern with chromium in leather manufacturing is the presence of hexavalent chromium (Cr(VI)). Hexavalent chromium is highly toxic and poses significant health risks. Prolonged exposure to Cr(VI) can cause severe skin irritation, respiratory problems, and even cancer.
  • Environmental Impact: Improper disposal of chromium-containing wastewater from tanneries can lead to water pollution. Hexavalent chromium can contaminate water sources, affecting aquatic ecosystems and potentially entering the food chain.
  • Worker Safety: Workers in tanneries and other leather manufacturing facilities may face occupational exposure to hexavalent chromium. Proper safety measures, such as wearing protective clothing and adhering to strict handling procedures, should be implemented to minimize risks.
  • Regulations and Standards: Many countries have established regulations and standards to limit the use and release of hexavalent chromium in the leather industry. For example, the European Union's REACH regulation restricts the use of certain harmful chemicals, including hexavalent chromium, in consumer products.
  • Alternatives and Best Practices: The leather industry is exploring alternative tanning methods and technologies to reduce reliance on hexavalent chromium. Vegetable tanning and other eco-friendly processes are gaining popularity as safer alternatives. Additionally, implementing best practices in waste management and treatment can help minimize environmental impact.
  • Responsible Sourcing: Brands and manufacturers can play a role in promoting responsible sourcing practices. By partnering with suppliers that prioritize sustainable and environmentally friendly tanning methods, the industry can reduce the overall use of hazardous chemicals like hexavalent chromium.


Formaldehyde is used as a preservative in leather processing to prevent bacterial growth and to make the leather water-resistant. It is a known carcinogen and can cause respiratory problems, skin irritation, and other health issues.

  • Health Risks: Formaldehyde is a known human carcinogen, meaning it can cause cancer. Prolonged exposure to formaldehyde can lead to respiratory issues, skin irritation, and allergic reactions in workers involved in the leather manufacturing process.
  • Worker Safety: Leather industry workers who handle formaldehyde-treated leather or work in environments where formaldehyde is present should follow strict safety protocols. Personal protective equipment (PPE), such as gloves, goggles, and masks, should be worn to minimize exposure.
  • Consumer Safety: Formaldehyde residues in leather products can pose risks to consumers, particularly if the products are in close contact with the skin. Regulations and standards are in place to limit formaldehyde content in consumer goods, ensuring they meet safety requirements.
  • Environmental Impact: Improper disposal of formaldehyde-containing wastewater can contaminate water sources and harm aquatic life. It is crucial for tanneries to implement appropriate waste management practices and employ treatment methods to minimize environmental pollution.

Azo Dyes

Azo dyes are commonly used to color leather products. However, they can break down into toxic compounds called aromatic amines, which are carcinogenic and can cause allergies and skin irritation. Many countries have banned the use of certain types of azo dyes in consumer products.

  • Health Risks: Some azo dyes can break down into aromatic amines, which are known to be toxic and can pose health risks. These aromatic amines have been associated with skin irritation, allergic reactions, and even potential carcinogenic effects in humans.
  • Consumer Safety: Leather products dyed with azo dyes may release harmful aromatic amines when in direct contact with the skin, leading to skin sensitization or allergic reactions. Regulatory standards are in place to limit the content of certain aromatic amines in consumer goods to ensure product safety.
  • Regulations and Standards: Various countries have established regulations and standards to control the use of azo dyes and restrict the release of harmful aromatic amines. For example, the European Union has implemented the REACH regulation, which sets limits on specific aromatic amines in consumer products.
  • Risk Management: Leather manufacturers must implement strict quality control measures and conduct testing to ensure compliance with regulations and standards. This includes screening for harmful aromatic amines in both raw materials and finished products.

Sodium Sulfide

Sodium sulfide is used to remove hair from animal hides during leather manufacturing. Exposure to sodium sulfide can cause skin irritation, respiratory problems, and eye damage.

  • Dehairing Process: Sodium sulfide is commonly used in the dehairing step of leather processing, where it helps to dissolve the hair and wool from the hides. It is particularly effective in removing hair from the hides of animals such as cows, sheep, and goats.
  • Hazards and Safety Precautions: Sodium sulfide is a highly reactive and corrosive substance that can cause severe skin and eye irritation. It is toxic if ingested or inhaled and can release toxic hydrogen sulfide gas when exposed to acids or acidic environments. Therefore, strict safety measures and personal protective equipment (PPE) are necessary when handling sodium sulfide.
  • Environmental Impact: Sodium sulfide can have a significant environmental impact if not handled and disposed of properly. It is harmful to aquatic life and can contaminate water sources if released into the environment. Leather manufacturers should implement appropriate wastewater treatment processes to remove or neutralize sodium sulfide before discharge.

Chlorinated Paraffin

Chlorinated paraffin is used as a flame retardant in leather manufacturing. It is a persistent organic pollutant that can accumulate in the environment and cause harm to wildlife and humans.

  • Leather Finishing: Chlorinated paraffin is commonly used in the finishing process of leather production. It is added to leather coatings, such as lacquers and paints, to enhance properties like durability, water resistance, and flame retardancy.
  • Health Hazards: Chlorinated paraffin contains chlorine compounds that can be harmful to human health. Prolonged exposure to chlorinated paraffin fumes or skin contact may lead to skin irritations, respiratory problems, and even potential long-term health effects.
  • Environmental Impact: The use of chlorinated paraffin in leather manufacturing raises environmental concerns. Chlorine compounds are persistent in the environment and can accumulate in aquatic ecosystems, posing risks to aquatic life. Proper handling, storage, and disposal methods are crucial to prevent environmental contamination.

Heavy Metals

Other heavy metals, such as lead, cadmium, and mercury, may also be used in leather processing. These metals can accumulate in the environment and cause health problems, particularly in workers who are exposed to them regularly.

Perfluorinated Compounds

Perfluorinated compounds are used in leather manufacturing to give the leather a water-resistant finish. Exposure to these compounds can cause a variety of health problems, including reproductive problems, kidney damage, and cancer.


Solvents are used in leather manufacturing to dissolve and remove impurities from leather. Exposure to solvents can cause a range of health problems, including skin irritation, respiratory problems, and liver and kidney damage.

Air Pollution from Leather Chemicals

Leather is a widely used material in various industries such as fashion, automotive, furniture, and accessories. However, the production process of leather involves the use of various chemicals that can lead to air pollution. The chemicals used in leather production can be harmful to both human health and the environment.

Chemicals Used in Leather Production

  • Leather production involves the use of several chemicals, such as chromium, formaldehyde, and volatile organic compounds (VOCs).
  • Chromium is used in the tanning process to make the leather more durable and resistant to water. However, it is a toxic metal that can cause cancer and other health problems when inhaled.
  • Formaldehyde is used to preserve the leather and prevent it from decaying. However, it is a known carcinogen and can cause respiratory problems.
  • VOCs are released from various chemicals used in the leather production process, such as adhesives, dyes, and solvents. These can cause respiratory problems, headaches, and other health problems.

Impact of Leather Chemicals on Air Quality

  • Emissions of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)

One of the primary impacts of leather chemicals on air quality is the emission of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) during leather production. VOCs are organic chemicals that can easily evaporate at room temperature and contribute to the formation of air pollutants such as ozone and smog.

Leather production involves the use of various chemicals such as formaldehyde, toluene, and benzene, which are known to emit VOCs. The use of these chemicals can result in poor indoor air quality in tanneries and surrounding areas.

Sources of VOCs: VOC emissions in leather manufacturing primarily come from the use of organic solvents, adhesives, dyes, and finishing agents. These substances contain volatile compounds that can evaporate into the air during various stages of the leather production process.

Health Effects: Exposure to VOCs can have adverse health effects, including eye, nose, and throat irritation, headaches, dizziness, and respiratory issues. Some VOCs are also known to have long-term effects, including damage to the liver, kidneys, and central nervous system.

Workers in the leather industry who come into contact with VOCs must follow safety precautions and use appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE).

  • Particulate Matter (PM) Emissions

Leather production also results in the emission of particulate matter (PM), which can have adverse effects on human health. PM is a mixture of tiny particles such as dust, dirt, and smoke that can easily enter the lungs and cause respiratory problems.

Leather chemicals such as chromium, used in the tanning process, can contribute to PM emissions. The PM emissions from tanneries can also contribute to outdoor air pollution.

Sources of PM Emissions: PM emissions in leather manufacturing can arise from several sources, including dust generated during the handling and processing of raw materials, grinding or sanding of leather, and combustion processes such as burning fossil fuels for energy or operating machinery.

Size and Composition: PM is categorized based on its size into different fractions: PM10 (particles with a diameter of 10 micrometers or less) and PM2.5 (particles with a diameter of 2.5 micrometers or less). The composition of PM emissions in leather manufacturing can vary but may include organic matter, metals, volatile compounds, and other substances present in the raw materials or released during processing.

  • Impact on Human Health

The emissions of VOCs and PM from leather production can have adverse effects on human health. Exposure to VOCs can cause irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat, as well as headaches, nausea, and dizziness. Long-term exposure to VOCs can also cause cancer and damage to the central nervous system.

Exposure to PM can cause respiratory problems, including asthma, bronchitis, and emphysema.

  • Impact on the Environment

The impact of leather chemicals on air quality is not limited to human health but can also affect the environment. The emission of VOCs and PM from tanneries can contribute to global warming and climate change. VOCs can also contribute to the formation of ground-level ozone, which is a potent greenhouse gas that can cause climate change.

Measures to Reduce Air Pollution from Leather Chemicals

  • Use of Environmentally Friendly Chemicals: One of the most effective ways to reduce air pollution from leather chemicals is to use environmentally friendly chemicals in manufacturing. These chemicals are designed to be less toxic and more biodegradable, which means they have a lower impact on the environment and human health.
  • Improved Ventilation Systems: Proper ventilation systems can help to reduce air pollution in leather manufacturing plants by removing chemicals and pollutants from the air. This can be achieved through the use of effective exhaust systems and air filtration systems, which can trap and remove harmful particles from the air.
  • Recycling and Reusing Chemicals: Another effective way to reduce air pollution from leather chemicals is to recycle and reuse chemicals wherever possible. This can help to reduce the amount of chemicals that are released into the environment, as well as the cost of manufacturing.
  • Training and Education: Proper training and education for leather manufacturing workers can also help reduce air pollution from leather chemicals. Workers can be trained to handle chemicals safely, and to identify and report any potential issues or hazards that may arise during the manufacturing process.
  • Regulation and Monitoring: Government regulation and monitoring can also play a key role in reducing air pollution from leather chemicals. Regulations can be put in place to limit the use of certain chemicals or to require the use of environmentally friendly chemicals. Monitoring can be used to ensure that companies are complying with these regulations and to identify any potential issues or areas for improvement.
  • Use of Alternative Materials: In addition to the above measures, using alternative materials in the production of leather goods can also help reduce air pollution from leather chemicals. For example, synthetic materials can be used in place of leather, which can reduce the amount of chemicals that are used in the manufacturing process.

Water Pollution from Leather Chemicals

Water pollution from leather chemicals is a major environmental issue that has long been associated with the leather industry. The leather production process involves the use of a variety of chemicals that can have harmful effects on the environment, including water sources.

Here are some key points about the water pollution caused by leather chemicals:

  • Heavy metal contamination: The leather industry uses a variety of chemicals, such as chromium, lead, and mercury, which can contaminate water sources. Chromium is particularly harmful and can cause severe health effects, including skin irritation, asthma, and cancer.
  • Discharge of wastewater: Leather production generates a large amount of wastewater that is often discharged untreated into nearby water sources. This wastewater can contain high levels of pollutants and chemicals that can harm aquatic life and pollute drinking water sources.
  • Damage to aquatic ecosystems: The chemicals used in the leather production process can damage aquatic ecosystems by disrupting the natural balance of water sources. This can lead to the death of fish, plants, and other aquatic organisms and also affect the health of animals and humans who depend on these water sources.
  • Microplastic pollution: The leather industry is also a significant source of microplastic pollution. The chemicals used in the production of leather can break down into microplastics, which can accumulate in water sources and harm aquatic life.
  • Treatment options: Various treatment options are available to reduce the water pollution caused by leather chemicals. These include using eco-friendly tanning methods, treating wastewater before discharge, and implementing effective waste management practices.

Soil Pollution from Leather Chemicals

Soil pollution from leather chemicals is a major concern due to the potential harm it can cause to human health and the environment. Here are some factors to consider:

  • Chemicals used in the tanning process: The tanning process involves the use of chemicals such as chromium, arsenic, and formaldehyde. These chemicals can cause soil pollution if not disposed of properly.
  • Waste disposal methods: Improper disposal of waste from tanneries can result in soil pollution. When waste is dumped in landfills or discharged into water bodies, it can seep into the soil and contaminate it with harmful chemicals.
  • Contamination of agricultural land: Soil pollution from leather chemicals can lead to the contamination of agricultural land. This can result in the accumulation of toxins in crops, which can be harmful to humans and animals that consume them.
  • Long-term effects: The effects of soil pollution from leather chemicals can persist for long. These chemicals can remain in the soil for many years, even after the tannery has shut down, and continue to cause harm to the environment.
  • Prevention measures: To prevent soil pollution from leather chemicals, tanneries need to implement proper waste management practices, such as treating wastewater and disposing of hazardous waste in a safe manner. Tanneries can also use eco-friendly tanning methods that reduce the use of harmful chemicals.
  • Government regulations: Governments can play a vital role in preventing soil pollution from leather chemicals. They can enforce regulations that require tanneries to comply with environmental standards and implement eco-friendly practices.

The Circular Economy and Leather Chemicals

The circular economy concept has become increasingly popular as the world tries to move towards a more sustainable future. In the leather industry, it involves finding ways to reduce waste and extend the life cycle of products.

Here are some points on how the circular economy can be applied to leather chemicals:

  • Reducing waste through closed-loop systems: A closed-loop system involves recycling waste products and turning them into new raw materials. This approach can be used in the leather industry by collecting and reusing chemicals that would otherwise be discarded. For example, wastewater from tanneries can be treated, and the resulting sludge can be used as fertilizer.
  • Developing sustainable chemical alternatives: The development of alternative chemicals that are safer and more sustainable than traditional leather chemicals is an important aspect of the circular economy. This includes finding alternatives to chromium, which is commonly used in leather tanning but is toxic to both humans and the environment.
  • Designing products for longevity and repairability: The circular economy also involves designing durable products that can be easily repaired rather than being disposed of and replaced. In the leather industry, this means creating products that can withstand wear and tear and can be repaired when necessary rather than being discarded.
  • Creating closed-loop supply chains: By creating closed-loop supply chains, companies can ensure that the materials they use are recycled and reused as much as possible. This includes not only the chemicals used in the leather tanning process but also the leather scraps and other waste products that are generated.
  • Adopting a life cycle approach: A life cycle approach involves considering the entire life cycle of a product, from raw materials to disposal, when making decisions about its production. This approach can help companies identify areas where they can reduce waste and improve sustainability, such as by using more sustainable chemicals or developing products that can be easily recycled.

Health Risks to Workers Exposed to Leather Chemicals

  • Respiratory Issues: Many of the chemicals used in leather manufacturing can cause respiratory issues such as bronchitis, asthma, and lung cancer. Exposure to these chemicals over a long period of time can lead to chronic respiratory problems.
  • Skin Problems: Leatherworkers are at risk of developing skin problems such as dermatitis caused by prolonged exposure to chemicals. Dermatitis can cause skin irritation, redness, and itching. It can also lead to more serious skin conditions such as eczema.
  • Reproductive Problems: Some leather chemicals are known to affect the reproductive system, leading to reduced fertility, birth defects, and other problems. Studies have shown that exposure to these chemicals can cause damage to sperm and increase the risk of miscarriage and stillbirth.
  • Cancer: Many of the chemicals used in leather manufacturing are carcinogenic, which means they can cause cancer. Leather workers who are exposed to these chemicals over a long period of time are at an increased risk of developing various types of cancer, including lung, bladder, and skin cancer.
  • Neurological Issues: Exposure to certain chemicals used in leather manufacturing can cause neurological problems such as headaches, dizziness, and seizures. These chemicals can also affect cognitive function, leading to memory loss and other cognitive impairments.
  • Eye Damage: Leatherworkers are at risk of developing eye problems such as cataracts and other vision problems due to exposure to certain chemicals used in the tanning process.
  • Cardiovascular Problems: Exposure to certain leather chemicals can also lead to cardiovascular problems such as high blood pressure and heart disease. These chemicals can damage the blood vessels and lead to the development of plaque in the arteries.

Leather manufacturers need to take measures to protect their workers from the health risks associated with the use of leather chemicals. These measures can include providing workers with personal protective equipment such as respirators and gloves, providing training on safe handling and use of chemicals, and implementing measures to minimize exposure to these chemicals.

Regulations and Guidelines for Leather Manufacturing Chemicals

Chemicals play an essential role in the production of high-quality leather, but they can also pose significant risks to human health and the environment if not handled properly.

To address these concerns, there are various regulations and guidelines in place that leather manufacturers must adhere to when it comes to the use and disposal of these chemicals.

REACH Regulations

REACH stands for Registration, Evaluation, Authorization, and Restriction of Chemicals. This regulation applies to all chemicals manufactured or imported into the European Union.

Under REACH, manufacturers must register their chemicals with the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) and provide information on their properties, uses, and safety. They must also assess the risks associated with the chemicals and take steps to minimize these risks.

Registration: REACH requires manufacturers and importers of chemicals, including those used in leather manufacturing, to register substances produced or imported in quantities above one ton per year.

This registration process involves submitting data on the properties, uses, and safe handling of the chemicals. By registering, manufacturers ensure that their chemicals comply with safety requirements and are approved for use.

Evaluation: REACH authorities conduct evaluations of registered substances to assess their potential risks to human health and the environment. This evaluation process helps identify any substances of high concern and triggers further actions, such as authorization or restriction.

Authorization: Certain substances that are of very high concern (SVHC) due to their hazardous properties, such as carcinogenicity or reproductive toxicity, require authorization for their use.

Authorization is granted based on the assessment of the risks and the availability of safer alternatives. Leather manufacturers need to comply with authorization requirements when using such substances.

Restriction: REACH also sets restrictions on the use of certain substances that pose significant risks to human health or the environment. These restrictions may include limits on the concentration of specific chemicals or bans on their use altogether.

Leather manufacturers must adhere to these restrictions and ensure that their processes comply with the regulated limits.

Chemical Classification and Labelling

The Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS) is a system that standardizes the classification and labeling of chemicals worldwide.

It aims to ensure that the hazards associated with chemicals are communicated to workers and consumers in a clear and consistent manner. Leather manufacturers must comply with the GHS when it comes to the labeling and classification of the chemicals they use.

OSHA Standards

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is a US federal agency that sets standards for workplace safety. OSHA has specific standards that apply to the use of hazardous chemicals in the workplace, including those used in leather manufacturing.

These standards require employers to assess the risks associated with these chemicals and take steps to protect workers from harm.

Hazard Communication Standard (HCS): OSHA's HCS requires employers to communicate information about the hazards of chemicals to workers. This includes providing Safety Data Sheets (SDS), labels, and training programs on the safe use, handling, and storage of chemicals.

Employers in the leather manufacturing industry must ensure that workers have access to the necessary information about the chemicals they work with.

Permissible Exposure Limits (PELs): OSHA sets PELs to limit workers' exposure to hazardous substances. These limits specify the maximum allowable concentrations of chemicals in the air within the workplace.

In leather manufacturing, chemicals such as solvents or dyes may have specific exposure limits that employers must monitor and control to ensure worker safety.

Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response (HAZWOPER): If leather manufacturing facilities handle hazardous waste or respond to chemical spills or emergencies, OSHA's HAZWOPER standards apply.

These standards outline safety requirements for workers involved in hazardous waste cleanup, including proper training, protective equipment, and emergency response protocols.

EPA Regulations

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has regulations in place that govern the use and disposal of hazardous chemicals in the US. These regulations apply to leather manufacturers and require them to follow specific procedures when it comes to the use, storage, and disposal of chemicals.

ZDHC Guidelines

The Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals (ZDHC) is a group of companies and organizations that have come together to eliminate hazardous chemicals from the textile, leather, and footwear supply chain. They have developed guidelines that aim to reduce the use of hazardous chemicals in leather manufacturing and improve their management.

Chemical MRSL: The ZDHC LM RSL outlines a list of chemical substances that are restricted or banned in leather manufacturing. These substances include certain dyes, solvents, flame retardants, and other hazardous chemicals.

Leather manufacturers are expected to comply with the MRSL by ensuring that the chemicals they use in their processes do not exceed the specified concentration limits.

Chemical Management System (CMS): The ZDHC guidelines encourage leather manufacturers to implement a Chemical Management System to control the use and discharge of chemicals. This involves adopting good practices in chemical procurement, storage, handling, and disposal.

The CMS should include mechanisms for risk assessment, chemical inventory management, and supplier engagement to ensure the responsible use of chemicals.

Wastewater Management: The ZDHC guidelines emphasize the importance of proper wastewater management in leather manufacturing. Leather manufacturers are encouraged to implement effective treatment systems to remove or reduce the presence of hazardous chemicals in wastewater.

By treating wastewater before discharge, the aim is to prevent the release of harmful substances into the environment.

Supplier Engagement: The ZDHC program promotes collaboration between leather manufacturers and their chemical suppliers. Leather manufacturers are encouraged to work closely with their suppliers to ensure compliance with the MRSL and promote the use of safer and more sustainable chemicals.

Supplier engagement can involve sharing information on chemical formulations, conducting audits, and promoting transparency throughout the supply chain.

Testing and Verification: The ZDHC guidelines advocate for regular testing and verification of chemicals used in leather manufacturing. Leather manufacturers should conduct appropriate testing to ensure compliance with the MRSL and assess the potential environmental and health impacts of chemicals.

Verification processes, such as third-party audits or certifications, can provide assurance that the chemicals used meet the specified requirements.

Innovations and Advancements in Sustainable Leather Manufacturing

Vegetable-tanned leather: Vegetable tanning is a traditional process that uses natural tannins derived from tree bark and other plant materials. This process eliminates the use of chromium, a toxic heavy metal used in conventional tanning, which has negative environmental and health impacts.

Vegetable-tanned leather is biodegradable and has a unique natural look and feel that many consumers find attractive.

Water-based leather finishing: Leather finishing is the process of treating the leather to achieve the desired look and feel. Traditionally, this process involves using solvent-based chemicals that are harmful to the environment and human health.

However, water-based leather finishing eliminates the use of these harmful chemicals, making it a more sustainable option.

Use of recycled leather: Leather waste is a significant problem in the industry, with millions of square feet of leather scrap generated each year. However, advancements in technology have made it possible to recycle leather waste and transform it into new leather products.

Recycled leather is not only eco-friendly, but it also has unique patterns and textures that add to its appeal.

Biodegradable leather: Researchers have been working on developing leather that is entirely biodegradable, which would significantly reduce the environmental impact of leather production. Some companies have already started producing biodegradable leather made from materials like mushrooms and other natural sources.

Chrome-free leather tanning: As mentioned earlier, chromium is a toxic heavy metal used in conventional leather tanning, which has negative environmental and health impacts. Chrome-free leather tanning eliminates the use of chromium and other harmful chemicals, making it a more sustainable option.

Digital printing on leather: Digital printing on leather allows for intricate designs and patterns to be printed without harmful chemicals. This process is not only eco-friendly, but it also allows for more customization and personalization in leather products.

Solar-powered leather production: Many leather manufacturing facilities require significant energy to operate, contributing to carbon emissions and other environmental concerns.

However, advancements in solar technology have made it possible for some companies to power their production facilities using solar energy, reducing their carbon footprint significantly.

Evaluating Leather Chemical Suppliers and Manufacturers

Leather production requires the use of a variety of chemicals to treat animal hides and transform them into usable leather. These chemicals can significantly impact the environment, so it is essential to choose responsible and sustainable suppliers and manufacturers.

  • Environmental Compliance: One of the most critical factors to consider is whether the supplier or manufacturer complies with environmental regulations. Companies should comply with local and national regulations for handling and disposing of chemicals and have robust environmental management systems to minimize the environmental impact.
  • Chemical Safety: Leather chemicals can be hazardous to human health if not handled correctly. It is important to ensure that the supplier or manufacturer provides employees with adequate training and safety equipment. They should also provide Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) and other relevant information to customers to ensure the safe handling and use of the chemicals.
  • Transparency: Transparency is crucial when evaluating leather chemical suppliers and manufacturers. Companies should be open and honest about their environmental and social impact, chemical composition, and manufacturing processes. They should also be willing to provide documentation and information upon request.
  • Sustainable Practices: Sustainable practices are becoming increasingly important in the leather industry. Companies should have a clear sustainability policy and demonstrate their commitment to reducing their environmental impact. This can include reducing water and energy usage, using renewable resources, and minimizing waste.
  • Quality of Chemicals: The quality of chemicals is another essential factor to consider when evaluating suppliers and manufacturers. Chemicals should meet industry standards and specifications, and the supplier or manufacturer should have a rigorous quality control process in place.
  • Customer Support: Good customer support is critical when working with leather chemical suppliers and manufacturers. Companies should provide responsive and helpful customer service, including technical support, assistance with product selection, and prompt resolution of any issues or concerns.
  • Reputation: A company's reputation can provide insight into its overall commitment to sustainability, quality, and customer service. It is important to research and evaluate the reputation of potential suppliers and manufacturers, including reading customer reviews and checking their ratings with relevant industry organizations.

Building Partnerships for Sustainable Leather Chemical Use

As the demand for leather goods continues to rise, there is growing concern over leather production's environmental and social impacts. One area of particular concern is the use of chemicals in the tanning process, which can contribute to pollution and negative health effects for workers and local communities. Building partnerships for sustainable leather chemical use is essential to address these concerns.

Here are some points to consider:

  • Identifying partners: Companies looking to use sustainable leather chemicals should first identify potential partners who share their values and commitment to sustainability. This may include chemical manufacturers producing eco-friendly alternatives, tanneries prioritizing sustainable practices, or non-profit organizations working on sustainable leather initiatives.
  • Collaboration: Building strong partnerships requires collaboration and communication between all parties involved. This may include sharing information on chemical use and best practices and working together on research and development of new, sustainable chemicals.
  • Supply chain management: Companies should also take a holistic approach to their supply chain management, ensuring that all suppliers and partners are committed to sustainable practices. This may involve auditing and monitoring suppliers to ensure they meet sustainability standards.
  • Investment in research and development: To promote the development of sustainable leather chemicals, companies should invest in research and development of new products and processes. This may involve developing new solutions with universities, research institutions, or chemical manufacturers.
  • Certification and transparency: Companies should also prioritize certification and transparency in their supply chain. This may involve obtaining certifications for sustainable leather production and providing transparency on their chemical use and supply chain practices to consumers and stakeholders.
  • Community engagement: Finally, building partnerships for sustainable leather chemical use should involve engagement with local communities and workers. This may involve working with local organizations to ensure that chemical use does not negatively impact the health and well-being of workers and nearby residents.

How Deskera Can Assist You?

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Deskera ERP and MRP system can help you:

  • Manage production plans
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Deskera ERP is a comprehensive system that allows you to maintain inventory, manage suppliers, and track supply chain activity in real-time, as well as streamline a variety of other corporate operations.

Deskera Books enables you to manage your accounts and finances more effectively. Maintain sound accounting practices by automating accounting operations such as billing, invoicing, and payment processing.

Deskera CRM is a strong solution that manages your sales and assists you in closing agreements quickly. It not only allows you to do critical duties such as lead generation via email, but it also provides you with a comprehensive view of your sales funnel.

Deskera People is a simple tool for taking control of your human resource management functions. The technology not only speeds up payroll processing but also allows you to manage all other activities such as overtime, benefits, bonuses, training programs, and much more. This is your chance to grow your business, increase earnings, and improve the efficiency of the entire production process.


The leather industry has been a major contributor to the global economy for centuries. However, the industry has also been associated with environmental degradation due to the use of leather chemicals. The harmful effects of these chemicals have been well-documented, and their impact on the environment cannot be ignored.

The leather industry must embrace sustainable practices that promote the use of non-toxic alternatives to ensure the continued production of leather goods without compromising the environment.

In addition, stakeholders must invest in research and development to discover new and innovative ways to manufacture leather goods without harming the environment. It is also essential that consumers be educated on the impact of leather chemicals on the environment and encouraged to make more environmentally-friendly choices when purchasing leather products.

By working together, stakeholders in the leather industry can help to promote a cleaner and healthier environment for present and future generations.

Key Takeaways

  • Leather manufacturing involves the use of various chemicals, including tanning agents, dyes, and finishing chemicals, to produce leather products.
  • These chemicals can have adverse effects on the environment, including pollution of water and soil, emission of greenhouse gases, and health hazards for workers in the leather industry.
  • One of the major environmental impacts of leather chemicals is water pollution, as many chemicals used in the tanning process can contaminate water sources and harm aquatic life.
  • The use of chrome in the tanning process is a major concern, as it is a toxic heavy metal that can contaminate water and soil, and pose health risks to workers and consumers.
  • Other chemicals used in the leather industry, such as solvents and resins, can also have negative impacts on the environment and human health.
  • In recent years, there has been a growing demand for sustainable and eco-friendly leather products, leading to the development of alternative tanning methods and chemicals.
  • Vegetable tanning is one such alternative method that uses natural tannins derived from plant sources rather than synthetic chemicals.
  • Eco-friendly chemicals, such as bio-based tanning agents, have also been developed as an alternative to traditional tanning agents.
  • Some companies are also implementing closed-loop systems in their manufacturing process to reduce water and chemical waste.
  • The Leather Working Group (LWG) is an organization that works to promote sustainable and responsible environmental practices in the leather industry.
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