As a by-product of the meat industry, leather is a highly sustainable material. Producing leather is a way of using a resource that would otherwise be thrown away and put into landfill. It then goes on to have a long useful life thanks to its durability and, ultimately, completes its cycle by biodegrading back into the earth. Sadly, however, the hide market has been subdued in recent years because of the use of rather less sustainable synthetics. According to Beef Central, “nearly 16 percent of all hides produced in the US last year went to landfill because there was no market for them”.

Saving hides from landfill 

It is very refreshing therefore to hear of another way of using hides and to reduce the wasteful practice of discarding them. A couple of entrepreneurs in Washington State, USA, have created ‘Holy Cow’ snacks which turn hides – or ‘beef skins’ as they prefer to call them – into tasty nibbles. One of the founders, Javon Bangs is quoted as saying: “Instead of discarding hides in landfills, we are upcycling them into a nutrient-dense snack. This reduces waste and pressure on the environment.”

Sustainability challenges

Available in four flavours, the snacks are inspired by Indonesian cuisine and designed to be an organic, ethical and healthier alternative to traditional processed snacks. In realising this objective, the company has faced many challenges that are familiar to those faced by the leather industry. Take animal welfare, for example. Just as leather producers want hides to be as unblemished as possible which means getting them from cattle that have been well cared for, Bangs insists on sourcing from “happy cows”. That means grass-fed beef cattle raised on farms that are not just sustainable but that practise regenerative farming methods. This too, is in line with the approach of more and more leather producers today.

In addition to checking out the farms that cattle come from, New Food Magazine describes how Holy Cow pays attention to the entire supply chain to ensure that ‘food miles’ are kept to a minimum. In the same way, leather producers are finding more ways to document their supply chain and ensure traceability of hides to confirm that they come from farms with verifiably high welfare standards.

It is very refreshing therefore to hear of another way of using hides and to reduce the wasteful practice of discarding them.

Toward a circular economy

It is early days but so far the company has “upcycled and prevented over two tonnes of waste from 500 hides from going to landfill”, according to Bangs. As the rush to synthetics subsides and the sustainability flaws of faux leather are increasingly revealed, hopefully many more hides will go to good use as people embrace leather – as well as beef rinds – more and more in the circular economy of the future.

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