Nothing to Hide


Leather facts

Hide and skin production around the world

About this essay

The information in this Nothing to Hide essay has come from these principal sources.


The Leather and Hide Council of America (LHCA) is an international body that works to promote US- sourced hides, skins and leather. It seeks also to establish and promote best practice in leather production, to set new international standards in sustainability and traceability, and to promote those values to stakeholders around the world:

The Food and Agriculture Organi- zation of the United Nations (FAO) is a specialized agency of the United Nations that leads international efforts to defeat hunger. Its goal is to achieve food security for all and make sure that people have regular access to enough high-quality food to lead active, healthy lives. It works in more than 130 countries worldwide:

The World Bank, an international organisation that provides funding for projects in developing countries with the aim of ending extreme poverty and building shared prosperity:

This essay tackles the following misrepresentations:

MYTH: It is cruel to make leather from animal hides and skins.
FACT: The hides and skins are a by-product of the meat industry and only become available after slaughter.
MYTH: There are better uses for the hides and skins.
FACT: There are some other uses, but for thousands of years, people have found making leather to be the best way to make the most of the material available. In many parts of the world, the only other realistic option would be for the material to go to waste, which would give meat companies two big headaches, a financial one because of lost revenue from tanners and because of the cost of disposal, and an environmental one because of waste management practices in many parts of the world.

Executive summary

The volume of hides and skins coming as a by-product from the global meat industry is enormous. Figures for 2019 from the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) suggest the meat industry generates 340 million cattle hides a year, along with 730 million sheepskins and 650 million goatskins. The leather industry buys up a large proportion, though not all, of this by-product and transforms it into one of the most versatile and attractive materials on earth. Unfortunately, millions of hides and skins go to waste.

The weight of the hides and skins the meat industry generates each year is almost 13.1 million tonnes. Dumping this material as waste would cause severe problems for all cities and countries where animal slaughter and meat processing take place, exacerbating an already serious municipal solid waste situation.

According to the World Bank, the mass of municipal solid waste reached a global level of more than 2 billion tonnes in 2016. It warns that, without urgent action, this will increase to 3.4 billion tonnes per year by 2050. In the developing world, the problem is even more acute because 90% of waste in these countries is “mismanaged”.

In parallel, the meat industry needs to consider how much money it will have to spend if it manages hides and skins in the same way as other solid waste. The UK, for example, imposes a landfill tax that reached a rate of £94.15 per tonne of waste from April 2020. Putting all of the meat sector’s hides and skins into landfill as waste would cost meat companies more than £1.25 billion (about $1.7 billion) per year at these rates. This cost would, in all likelihood, be passed on to consumers, making meat more expensive and less accessible. 

The tanning industry has also shown that processing the hides and skins to make leather generates far fewer greenhouse gas emissions than letting the material go to waste.

This essay argues that the leather industry does the meat industry and society at large a great service by taking unwanted material and converting it into leather for shoes, accessories, clothing and upholstery. Tanners and finished leather product brands should remind customers of this in the face of questions about sustainability.

Essay one in the Nothing To Hide series was first published in 2014. This updated version is from 2021.

Read full essay online

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