Recycled Materials: How can they be used in Leather, Footwear and Apparel Manufacturing?
The idea of using recycled materials in leather product, footwear and apparel manufacturing is growing. This is largely due to an elevated public awareness of the need to increase recycling efforts and reduce the production of materials that are ultimately destined for landfill. The most effective method of achieving these outcomes remains a matter of debate, however a significant amount of recent attention has been given to ideas related to the circular economy.
The circular economy is focused on creating new products from existing materials. It directly contrasts traditional ‘take-make-waste’ approaches to manufacturing in which raw materials are extracted, converted into a useful product, and then disposed of once they are no longer needed. The benefits of a circular approach are clear. By reusing materials such as leather and textiles, many of the environmental challenges associated with traditional manufacturing (e.g. resource depletion, wastage and environmental pollution) are reduced, something which contributes to a more sustainable form of development. There are also direct economic benefits, such as reductions in the requirements for, and spending on, raw materials.
Challenges of Using Recycled Materials in Leather, Footwear and Apparel Manufacturing
While the willingness and demand to use recycled materials in manufacture is strong, there are a number of challenges associated with their use, including issues related to compliance, provenance and performance.
For a recycled product to comply with regulation, manufacturers must ensure that no material from which the product is made prevents the adherence with required standards. Additional risks relate to the recycling process, and whether any materials are altered to such a point that they are no longer compliant with legislative requirements.
Matters of compliance are inherently related to those of provenance. If a retailer of recycled products is unaware of where the recycled materials originate, it is more difficult to resolve issues of compliance. Depending on the nature of the product, an inability to prove a material’s origin exposes manufacturers to further risks such as those related to modern slavery and animal welfare.
In many cases the recycling of a product involves it being broken down into its constituent materials (e.g. rubber, plastics, leather) via processes such as shredding. These components are then reformed in order to create a new product. One of the key challenges associated with this process is ensuring that the reformed materials are not of an inferior durability to traditional, non-recycled, alternatives. Irrespective of environmental credentials, a product that performs poorly in terms of its physical characteristics is unlikely to remain popular with consumers in the long-term.