The modern process of tanning or turning hides and skins into durable leather is chemical intensive and produces large amounts of toxic waste, which can pollute the air, water, and land surrounding the tanning plants. The power and water used throughout the process of tanning aren’t eco-friendly, either.
Of the approximately 130 chemicals used, chromium is one of the worst. It can cause allergic reactions, skin rashes, respiratory problems, and upset stomachs. Other unsavory chemicals used include pentachlorophenol (PCP) and formaldehyde.
A safer and eco-friendlier process is old school vegetable tanning with natural tannins. It’s a lot slower than chemical dying, and the results are stiffer, not as soft.
There are those who argue leather can’t be considered a sustainable material no matter what and others who say it is the ultimate in sustainability: a durable byproduct of the cattle industry. If you’re going to wear leather, veggie dyed is the way to go.
Shop for vegetable-tanned leather shoes. Bonus: if you toss them at the end of their useful life, they can disintegrate back into the soil (under the right conditions). Read the fine print when shopping: seek out certification labels, styles that are formaldehyde-free and don’t use other toxic chemicals, glues, or dyes.
If you don’t see what you want at a local store, head online.
Take care of the leather shoes you already have; having taps put on them at a cobbler can make them last longer. Before moving onto a new pair, see if you can have them resoled.