Apple is Leaving Leather Behind

Apple is Leaving Leather Behind

Apple will no longer make leather watch bands in a move to reduce its environmental impact.

Apple just announced they will be removing all leather products from their product lines. After many years of selling everything from leather laptop sleeves to leather Apple Watch bands and leather airpod cases, Apple is officially leaving leather behind. In this article we’ll cover why Apple is walking away from leather and what some alternative options are on the market. 

Why is Apple removing leather from its product line?

Apple announced that they are removing leather products from their product line in order to reduce their environmental impact. The company will replace their leather products with a durable twill made from 68 percent post-consumer recycled content (Really, Apple? All that talk about environmental impact and you couldn't make it 100% recycled?!).

What is the environmental impact of leather?

Apple ditched leather in order to reduce its environmental impact, which begs the question- what is the environmental impact of leather. This is a complicated topic and difficult to measure, but according to a lifecycle assessment, virgin leather (in this case a finished cow leather) can account for 73 kgCO2e m2. Of course there are a variety of types of leather and ways to process it, so it’s important to keep in mind that this number is an approximate number. But, to put that in perspective, that’s the equivalent of a round trip economy flight from London to Paris.

If you’re wondering Why is the environmental impact of leather so high, we’ll tell you! The environmental impact of leather includes a number of process, but here are a few of the contributors to leather’s environmental impact:

  • The grazing of cattle emits the most emissions of any part of the leather production process. When cows fart, they emit a powerful greenhouse gas called methane that’s 10x more powerful than carbon.
  • Our forests are being cut down to clear land for the grazing of additional cattle. When we clear forests, we release the carbon that was previously contained in them, as well as eliminate their ability to sequester carbon from the environment. 

It’s important to keep in mind that only 2.3% of the economic value of the cow comes from its hide, making leather clearly a byproduct of the meat industry. So while the impact is great, one must also consider the alternative- if a cow hide was to end up in a landfill after the meat was used for food production, it would be producing waste and releasing greenhouse gases in the process of degradation. One has to wonder, what would be the impact of that?

Though the carbon emissions of leather (according to the LCA) are not ideal (a cotton t-shirt, to provide some perspective, accounts for 8.3 kgCO2e m2), when analyzing something’s sustainability it is important to think about durability. If 1 leather item lasts 50 years, for example, you may need 10 vegan leather items in the same span of time, therefore you would have to 5x the vegan leathers impact to really determine which is more sustainable. And of course one must consider the impact of what the product has after its done-- does it degrade in a landfill or break down into tiny microplastics, polluting our water and our food?

What are some sustainable alternatives to virgin leather apple watch bands and AirPods cases?

  1. leather bands and cases made from recycled or upcycled materials, like the HYER GOODS Apple Watch Band and AirPod Pro Case, which utilize deadstock materials leftover from fancy fashion brands, keeping these high quality, abandoned materials out of landfills and in circulation.
  2. Bands and cases made responsibly sourced silicone
  3. Bands made from recycled synthetics, created from recycled plastic bottles (important to note here: this does not fare so well if it ends up in a landfill)

Though Apple leather watch bands will surely be missed, luckily there are some alternative options out there. Now that you understand why Apple canceled its leather products, you can make an informed decision on what alternatives are right for you. Do you want a more sustainable Apple Watch band? While virgin leather may not be the most sustainable product, upcycled options present a durable, conscious alternative, if you are looking for a luxury Apple Watch band. And if leather isn’t your cup of tea, opt for another responsibly sourced or recycled material.

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