Leather is an amazing material that will last a very long time if properly taken care of. But what if you decide you want to buy or make a new leather item? Or if you have a bunch of scrap pieces you don’t have any use for anymore?
In this article I want to go over how to recycle leather and where to recycle leather scraps. In short you are going to want to recycle, upcycle, repair and reuse old leather. There are a number of items you can make from scrap leather and a few places to donate scrap leather such as Planet Aid.
There are few articles online talking about what do with an old leather item you have laying around your house. But none of these go into detail on what to do if you are a leather crafter wanting to declutter all of the small cuts you have left over from a build.
Where to recycle scrap leather pieces?
If you are a crafter you will soon realize that you have a lot of offcuts or pieces that you don’t really have use for. Save these pieces! First things first, find a bag or a box to place all of your leather scraps.
After you start to make a few handfuls of items you might start to notice you are building quite the collection of leather pieces not going to use. Now once you have a decent of pieces you can start placing them in two different categories.
First one can be pieces that you may have usage for. This means you might be able to make a scrap project out of these pieces of leather.
The second category should be the leather pieces that you know you will have no use for. Maybe the leather has been damaged too much or the pieces are just too small.
Now for pieces of leather that are almost unusable to you, there are a few options you can choose from. One of the best ways to get rid of these leather pieces is to donate them to something like a Planet Aid or Scrap It Up.
You can also check locally as some cities have their own recycling centers where they either dispose of material or resell/reuse it for projects.
These places take many items whether they are toys, clothes, wires and even fabric pieces. And yes, this includes the leather pieces lying around your house! They’ll sort through any items they can resell and dispose of the rest in the best way possible.
For these very small pieces you may not think there is any use for them but they can be turned into an assortment of different materials. We talked about fake leather in our different types of leather post and yes, this is partially what can be used to create this leather.
Donating scrap pieces can then be turned into bonded leather, genuine leather, pu leather etc. But it doesn’t stop with leather.
Leather remnants can be made into rubber as well as acacia wood bark. The leather will then be used to make sheets of this material for someone else to use and apply to their own craft, work or hobby!
How to recycle leather scraps
Now that you have found some places that will accept scrap leather pieces, knows where the good pieces of scraps come in handy.
You can make an assortment of small items with just some scraps laying around and these are some of my favorite ideas:
- Small leather wallet
- Mouse Pad
I’m not going to go into detail on how to make these items but get creative! If you have a piece of leather with some shape and size to it you can figure out some way to use it!
Another useful way to recycle leather scraps is to use them as a tools to test out new ideas.
If you have ever built a wallet and noticed the card pocket was a bit too big or too small, now would be a chance to try out different sizes. This way when you go to make a new design you won’t have to guess on which measurements you liked the best.
On the left I made one card pocket guide and on the right was a failed project.
The left picture gives me a good idea on how many cards will fit comfortably within a 2 5/8″ wide pocket. With the cutouts on top I now know what a couple different heights look and feel like.
The right picture was from a passport wallet I tried to make. I noticed as I was putting the pockets together they did not seem accurate. So instead of finishing the project I stitched up the tree pockets just to test them. Now I know I like the width of the pockets but not so much the height.
Doing small scrap leather “projects like these are a great way to learn more about measurements of an item.
How to recycle leather items
When you have an actual item like shoes or a jacket, it is much easier to find ways to recycle the leather.
The best ways would be to donate the items or upcycle them if you can.
If the item is usable in anyway the best thing you can do is to donate to your local thrift store or clothing drop off box. This way even if you do not have any use in the article of leather clothing anymore, someone else can use it!
This also works perfect if you are a crafter, because let’s face it, some of the stuff we make isn’t that great! So if you are new to the craft and are suddenly building up a collection of wallets you made yourself but you don’t feel comfortable selling them, donate them.
It may be hard letting go of something you spent hours on just to give it away, but believe me, its better than looking at you’re your bad stitching everyday! Even if you don’t like the idea that a thrift store will turn around and resell the item you made for a few bucks, give them to your friends or family!
Having something handmade by a friend is always something really cool to keep with you. A couple of mine still have wallets that I gave them and use them even though to me I did a poor job at making them! To me that’s the best way to recycle leather products you have made!
Upcycling your leather goods
Now this is easier said when you actually have some leathercraft tools to do but if you have no need for something made out of leather, you might as well get creative with it.
Cut a jacket apart and make a leather pouch out of it. Cut a leather pouch and make a wallet from it! The options are endless, and yes, it may not be the leather you are looking to work with but it can be a great start to try leather crafting.
If you need some tools to help make a project, I go everything you need to start leatherworking here.
I also recently made a video about using $10 and going to the dollar store to get leathercraft items. So if you have absolutely nothing at least you may be able to find some tips in that video.
Since you are just upcycling an old leather items it may not be super important to have it look the best.
Get your old leather goods repaired
Now there aren’t as many leather repair businesses around as their used to be, but this can be a great way to bring back the life of your item. Most of the time you can find cobblers (shoe repairman) and shoe makers that can fix most issues wrong with a pair of leather shoes and boots.
Now for things such as furniture and other household goods you will need to find different types of shops. These shops usually specialize in making or fixing up furniture and leather is something they can definitely work with.
For items such as jackets, purses and even wallets you may have to find someone that either specializes in leather repair or makes their own leather goods.
Now if you are going to get something repaired the cost may not be cheap depending on the item. These people have spent many years working with leather and can mostly turn an old piece of leather into something that looks brand new.
But this will be worth it for you the consumer as you won’t just have to buy a new item plus now you have successfully recycled a leather project!
Why you should recycle your excess leather
Now I don’t want to sound annoying by telling people they are not doing enough to recycle their leather. I know a lot of great businesses that make leather items and properly dispose of any waste they have laying around.
This is more of awareness to the new crafter or owner of leather items that you can and should recycle the leather if you choose to get rid of it.
Tanned leather last a long time!
In order for a manufacturer or a crafter to be able to make leather goods, the leather has to go through a tanning process. This process helps decrease the amount of moisture in the leather and makes it so it does not rot away.
The two most common methods are: Chrome Tanning and Vegetable Tanning. Now I’m not going to go into detail about how they are tanned but generally chrome tanning is a lot worse for the environment than vegetable tanning.
Chrome tanning use chemicals that release into the atmosphere when the leather is being processed. Vegetable tanning mainly uses a natural treatment process to coat the leather.
These two leathers have a different feel and usually end up being used in different fields of crafting.
As stated by Business Recycling: If leather was not tanned, it would be biodegradable and wouldn’t take too long either to degrade. But due to tanning, it makes the leather last an extremely long time. This also is the only way for leather to be used for items like wallets, clothing, shoes, car seats etc.
Not only do these chemicals get into the air but they also are released into water and even contaminating soil. A lot of tanneries also shave off or cut certain pieces of the hide because these areas are unusable. These cuts are then pieces of leather that have been tanned now have little to no use. So they end up going to a landfill if not properly recycled.
This is stated by the United Nations Industrial Development Organization on their fourteenth session of Leather and Leather Products Industry Panel.
It is a long PDF but there are some key features to how and how much leather is going to waste yearly.
So since the process to make the leather useable has some effect on the environment it’s up to the crafter and consumer to properly dispose of the unused material.