How long does it take for synthetic leather to decompose?

September 7, 2023
min read

Short answer

The decomposition time of synthetic leather can vary depending on various factors such as the specific type of synthetic leather, environmental conditions, and disposal method. However, on average, it can take around 500 to 1,000 years for synthetic leather to decompose.


Synthetic leather, also known as faux leather, is a man-made material designed to mimic the appearance and texture of genuine leather. It is commonly made from a combination of PVC (polyvinyl chloride) or PU (polyurethane) and other chemicals. However, unlike genuine leather, synthetic leather does not decompose naturally. This is mainly because the processes used to create synthetic leather involve the use of non-biodegradable materials, making it resistant to decomposition by natural means.

The decomposition process of synthetic leather differs from genuine leather due to its composition. Genuine leather, being an organic material, can decompose over time through the action of microorganisms and enzymes present in the environment. On the other hand, synthetic leather contains primarily non-biodegradable materials such as PVC or PU, which do not readily breakdown naturally. These materials are resistant to degradation by microorganisms, making the decomposition process significantly slower or even non-existent.

However, it is important to note that while synthetic leather may not decompose naturally, it does undergo degradation through other means. Over time, exposure to sunlight, heat, and moisture can cause synthetic leather to deteriorate and lose its structural integrity. Additionally, synthetic leather products are often treated with various finishes and coatings, which can break down and wear off over time, further affecting the appearance and quality of the material.

In conclusion, synthetic leather does not decompose in the same way as genuine leather due to its composition of non-biodegradable materials. While it may not undergo natural decomposition by microorganisms, synthetic leather can still degrade and deteriorate over time through exposure to environmental factors. Proper care and maintenance can help slow down this degradation process and prolong the lifespan of synthetic leather products.

Is it possible to recycle synthetic leather?

Intresting facts

  • Synthetic leather, also known as faux leather or pleather, is usually made from a combination of polyurethane or polyvinyl chloride (PVC) coated onto a fabric base.
  • Unlike natural leather, which can decompose over time, synthetic leather does not decompose easily. It is a non-biodegradable material due to the use of petroleum-based products in its production.
  • When synthetic leather does break down, it can release harmful chemicals into the environment. PVC-based synthetic leather can release toxic chlorine gas, dioxins, and phthalates, which can have detrimental effects on both human health and the ecosystem.
  • Although synthetic leather can take hundreds of years to decompose, efforts are being made to recycle and upcycle this material. Recycling options include converting synthetic leather into new products or repurposing it as raw material for the production of composite boards or building insulation.
  • To promote sustainability and reduce waste, choosing natural materials, like organic cotton or cork, for fashion and upholstery, or opting for genuine leather products that come from responsible sources, are more environmentally-friendly alternatives to synthetic leather.

Summary and final thoughts

The decomposition time of synthetic leather can vary depending on various factors such as the composition of the material and the environmental conditions it is exposed to. However, in general, synthetic leather is known to take a significantly longer time to decompose compared to natural materials. While natural leather can biodegrade over time, synthetic leather, made from plastic-based materials like polyurethane (PU) or polyvinyl chloride (PVC), can take several decades or even hundreds of years to fully decompose. This slow decomposition process contributes to the environmental concerns associated with synthetic leather, as it can accumulate in landfills and contribute to plastic pollution. Therefore, it is crucial to prioritize sustainable alternatives and proper disposal methods to mitigate the environmental impact of synthetic leather.

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