ACS News Service Weekly PressPac: March 10, 2021

The quest for sustainable leather alternatives 

“Sustainable Materials Make a Play for the Vegan Leather Market”
Chemical & Engineering News

Throughout history, leather has been a popular material for clothes and many other goods. However, the tanning process and use of livestock mean that it has a large environmental footprint, leading consumers and manufacturers alike to seek out alternatives. An article in Chemical & Engineering News (C&EN), the weekly newsmagazine of the American Chemical Society, details how sustainable materials are giving traditional leather a run for its money. 

Traditional leather goods are known for their durability, flexibility and attractive finish, with a global market worth billions, writes Associate Editor Craig Bettenhausen. Despite leather’s popularity, the modern tanning process uses potentially harmful chemicals and creates a large amount of wastewater. In addition, most hides come from the meat and dairy industries, which have sustainability problems. Leather-like materials, often called vegan leather, are gaining traction among high-end manufacturers, defying the negative perceptions of synthetic “pleather.” These leather alternatives are made from an array of base materials, including plants, mushrooms and even fish skin, each with a unique take on sustainable production.

Plant-based materials are currently the most advanced leather mimics because of their straightforward manufacturing process, which combines inexpensive natural fibers and polymers that are rolled into sheets. A company based in Mexico has created a leather made from prickly pear cactus, which is ground into a powder and combined with a biobased polyurethane. Mushroom leather mimics the texture of cowhide leather very well, but production needs to scale up substantially to make an impact. Although not a vegan alternative, fish skin is poised to replace exotic leathers such as snake and alligator skin. Cell-culture leather is also in early development, which could disrupt the traditional leather market even further. Experts are confident that these materials are viable alternatives, and manufacturers plan to scale up their efforts going forward.

The American Chemical Society (ACS) is a nonprofit organization chartered by the U.S. Congress. ACS’ mission is to advance the broader chemistry enterprise and its practitioners for the benefit of Earth and all its people. The Society is a global leader in promoting excellence in science education and providing access to chemistry-related information and research through its multiple research solutions, peer-reviewed journals, scientific conferences, eBooks and weekly news periodical Chemical & Engineering News. ACS journals are among the most cited, most trusted and most read within the scientific literature; however, ACS itself does not conduct chemical research. As a leader in scientific information solutions, its CAS division partners with global innovators to accelerate breakthroughs by curating, connecting and analyzing the world’s scientific knowledge. ACS’ main offices are in Washington, D.C., and Columbus, Ohio.

To automatically receive press releases from the American Chemical Society, contact


Note: ACS does not conduct research, but publishes and publicizes peer-reviewed scientific studies.

Note: ACS does not conduct research, but publishes and publicizes peer-reviewed scientific studies.

Media Contact

ACS Newsroom