If you are replacing your leather wallet — either because it was damaged or simply because your style or needs have changed — you should consider repurposing or recycling it rather than tossing it in the trash.
Old leather wallets or scrap leather can be taken to a recycling center or upcycle shop. However, many more creative DIY projects will allow you to repurpose the leather, giving it new life.
In this post, I’ll explain why reusing or recycling leather products is important and share some of my favorite DIY projects.
Why you should recycle leather
Animal hides and leather products are biodegradable, but that doesn’t mean that sending them to a landfill is fine. Many consumers erroneously believe that throwing away products labeled as “biodegradable” or “compostable” won’t contribute to greenhouse gas emissions—quite the contrary.
When biodegradable materials decompose in the anaerobic environment of a landfill (that is, in the absence of oxygen), they produce methane, one of the most significant greenhouse gases.
To be ecologically benign, compostable products (including coffee cups and disposable utensils made from plant matter) shouldn’t be buried in landfills. Instead, they should be reused, collected for biofuel production, or composted in an aerobic environment. Unfortunately, many “compostable” products can’t break down in an aerobic environment, so they have to either be reused or industrially decomposed by a biofuel producer.
Leather doesn’t break down quickly in an aerobic environment. If you put it in your backyard bin, it will probably remain intact for many decades. So, if you’re looking to be environmentally conscientious, the best bet is to make sure your old leather products are reused, upcycled, or recycled.
Try cleaning or repairing your wallet.
If your leather wallet has become scarred or dirty, you don’t necessarily need to replace it. Instead, you could try cleaning and restoring it. Doing so correctly can make it look more beautiful since it will help it develop a patina.
There are various ways to remove spots and stains, and traditional leather wallets can (and should be) conditioned to improve their lifespan. I wrote about these methods in an earlier post, which you can read for more details.
Pass it along for someone to reuse
If your wallet can’t be repaired to your satisfaction or no longer fits your style but remains perfectly usable and in relatively fine condition, you can donate it to a thrift shop, such as Goodwill or a Salvation Army store. This will ensure that it goes to a good home and is reused.
Of course, if it is in poor condition or is unusable, you shouldn’t donate it. Doing so forces the thrift store to throw it away, so it will still ultimately end up in the trash.
Upcycle your leather wallet
Upcycling refers to using an old product or scraps as elements of a new product. However, it is different from traditional recycling, which requires a discarded product to be first broken down into its raw material form.
An example can help illustrate the difference. Suppose you have a stack of cards you received during the holiday season. If you recycle them, they will be processed back into paper pulp and formed over again into paper. This is an energy-intensive process. Upcycling them, by contrast, would involve incorporating them into something new without industrially processing them. For example, you could save them and then use them to make collages, ornaments, or even a new set of composite greeting cards.
This DIY upcycling uses only a minuscule amount of additional energy. It is a carbon-neutral form of recycling since it often doesn’t increase the overall energy you use daily.
DIY Craft Projects
When it comes to a leather wallet, upcycling involves disassembling the wallet, so you are left with the original sheets of leather. This can then be cut, shaped, braided, or used to make new items.
You can disassemble your wallet by using a set of precision scissors or a seam ripper to snip the stitching. You might need to use tweezers to pull out the threads once they have been snipped.
After you’ve removed the stitches, you will probably be left with one or two larger sheets of leather and a few smaller ones that were used to make the wallet pockets. You can cut these leather sheets into whatever shape you need with scissors or a craft knife.
Here are a few ideas about how you can put them to use:
- Tool handles or wraps. The easiest way to recycle a larger wallet (or belt, etc.) is to use the leather to wrap around the wooden handle of a tool, such as a hammer, mallet, or ax. One of the more interesting ways to do this is to use a no-stitch method. This is the perfect project if you aren’t very crafty and are looking for an entry-level DIY project or if you want a rainy day workshop activity.
- Keychain straps or loops. Another simple DIY leather craft involves cutting your sheets into strips and attaching them to key rings. These leather keychains are an excellent homemade holiday gift.
- Leather Christmas ornaments. Kids will likely enjoy a quick and easy project that involves making gingerbread man ornaments from your leather scraps. Use a cookie cutter and pen to trace the shape of the gingerbread man onto the piece of leather, and then cut it out with a pair of scissors. Bond the leather to a piece of solid cardboard using strong glue. (Make sure it’s made for being used with leather and test it on a small sample, so you know what to expect.)
You could make rings, bracelets, or even an earbuds case if you have some leather-working tools. Of course, these are just a few ideas. There are innumerable ways to use your leather, so get creative.
Let someone else upcycle it.
If DIY crafting isn’t your thing, you can unload it to someone who will put it to use without ending up in a landfill.
- Upcycle shops and reuse stores are becoming more common. They are like a craft and thrift store where people can buy odds and ends to use in projects. They almost always accept donations. Search online to see if there’s one near you and, if so, give them a call.
- Freecycle groups are social media communities where people can post free things for others to pick up. There’s probably one in your area. Search Facebook or your other social media platforms using the term “freecycle.”
If you can’t find a way to ensure that your old wallet is upcycled, you can always call your local recycling center or waste disposal agency to see if they recycle leather scraps. If they do, you usually need to drop them off. Call your local center to ask.
Regardless of your option, there are plenty of ways to keep your old wallet out of the landfill.
Learn more about Karbone Wallet
Learn more about the worthiness of expensive wallets
Learn more about cleaning a leather wallet