Chromium-tanning was developed back in the 1800s to shorten the tanning process that was taking weeks and even months. Instead, this method only takes one day. This is the reason why over 85% of the leather used in the world is chromium-tanned leather. Although it’s the most popular form of producing leather and unfortunately one of the most harmful. It is dangerous for both the environment and industry laborers. Specifically, the dumping of solid and liquid waste byproducts contain leftover chromium and other hazardous compounds and can contaminate water supplies. This is very common in regions without strong environmental protection standards, which also happen to be the developing countries where leather is tanned. In large doses, when the chromium-laced waste is dumped into regional water systems, it can damage fish gills, contribute to respiratory problems, infections, infertility, and birth defects.
Because chromium-tanned leather is the most common, you should assume that unless otherwise stated chromium was used in the dying process. This includes genuine or partially genuine leather under the names bicast leather, split leather, bonded leather, reconstituted leather, and corrected grain leather.
Chromium Leather Characteristics
- Chrome tanned products are cheaper and more common than vegetable-tanned leather products
- Colors of the leather remain unchanged during the product’s entire lifespan, meaning a patina will not develop
- Thinner than vegetable tanned leather
- The process of chrome tanning creates toxic wastewater that has detrimental environmental impact, (especially in the developing world)
- Chrome tanned products neither wears well nor lasts very long and can crack after a few months of use
- Chrome tanned products often carry a chemical smell and can look artificial
PU Leather, or Polyurethane Leather
What is Vegan Leather
100% PU leather is completely artificial and is one of the most common 'vegan' leathers. There are however some types of PU leather called bicast leather, which contain actual leather but have a polyurethane coating on top. This type of PU leather
takes the fibrous part of cowhide leftover from making genuine leather and put a layer of polyurethane on top of it.
It can be hard to identify vegan leather because it has so many names. Here are a few you may have seen on product listings:
- PU (Polyurethane) Leather
- Faux Leather
- Vegan Leather
PU products are attractive mostly because of their lower price. But there are some of the cons to it:
- Can look fake and synthetic
- Isn’t breathable like genuine leather
- Can smell of chemicals or plastic
- Easily wears over time, can crack, which means it doesn’t last as long as real leather
- Can puncture or tear easily, unlike genuine leather
PU leather doesn’t develop the same luster or patina as real leather over time
Even though it uses fewer resources to make, plastics don’t decompose and aren’t the most eco-friendly.
It may not be achievable that all the products we buy be made of the most natural method of the three; but when it comes to your daily bag you use when carrying for your baby, you may want to select the only leather diaper bag made of veg-tanned leather.
It will last you the longest, it will look and smell most natural and it will have the smaller footprint on the planet.