Faux leather is most often made from PVC, attracting criticism from some environmentalists. But Taiwanese product manufacturer General Silicones may have found a solution. The environmental problems with plastics such as PVC are well-known — they’re made from fossil fuels and they don’t biodegrade, instead breaking down into microplastics which harm wildlife and pollute the environment.
On the other hand, General Silicones’ leather is made primarily from natural silica, which is essentially what sand is made of. It doesn’t break down into smaller particles as plastics do, and it doesn’t produce toxic fumes if incinerated. It’s extremely durable and long-lasting, as well as safe for skin, waterproof, and resistant to UV and heat.
The perfect alternative?
While silicone leather may seem like an ideal solution, this isn’t quite the full story. Though it’s made mostly from natural materials, non-renewable carbon (usually coal) is also required. And silicone’s durability can be a negative rather than a positive, since it doesn’t biodegrade and is very challenging to recycle.
But as pointed out by General Silicones, the fact that it doesn’t break down means it can’t leach toxins or form microplastics. And because it’s so long-lasting, it can reduce waste in the long run.
The company has been producing silicone products for over 50 years, but has only recently begun making leather alternatives due to rising demand. It says its mission is to “help improve our life quality and leave the next generation a pollution-free environment”.
Silicone isn’t the only plastic-free alternative to leather — companies worldwide are now making vegan leather from mushrooms, cacti, apples, and more. While it could be argued that these biodegradable alternatives are the only way forward, others may say that any shift away from plastics and animal-derived materials is a positive.
General Silicones’ product also has some advantages — it’s available in rolls that manufacturers can use to directly replace PVC faux leather, and it’s easily scalable. Like many problems, the issues associated with conventional leather production have a range of possible solutions, and General Silicones’ leather alternative may be one of them.