Design-led Interiors

Bus and Coach
22 January 2010

Recycling waste needn’t stop at running your vehicles on biodiesel derived from spent cooking oil.
Waste can be put to lots of other uses. Suitably processed, it can even be used to cover seats.
That’s the view of E-Leather. Its Peterborough plant makes seat trim material from shavings, trimmings and other bits and pieces discarded by tanneries that would otherwise go to landfill, and it’s looking to make inroads into the bus and coach sector.

Producing the leather used to make everything from stylish jackets to the cover on your brand-new sofa creates vast amounts of liquid and solid waste, E-Leather points out. A tonne of hides generates no more than 255kg of finished, tanned leather but almost three-quarters of a tonne of what on the face of it is rubbish.

The technology E-Leather employs allows it to take roughly a third of this detritus and turn it into fibre that is then transformed into a tough-looking material known as composition leather. The fibres are physically interlinked in a patented process that does not involve the use of adhesives.

At first glance it is almost indistinguishable from traditional leather – it looks and feels pretty much the same – but costs slightly less.

It has further advantages, the company claims. It’s up to 50 per cent lighter than traditional leather and up to 30 per cent lighter than moquette, which spells fuel savings and potentially a higher payload.

“What’s more, it’s more durable than conventional leather,” contends E-Leather head of marketing, David Parkinson. In particular it’s scuff-resistant, he says.

However you still get to enjoy the onboard atmosphere of restrained luxury that leather can create.
“You can have it in any colour you like, and it can be embossed with your company’s logo,” he continues. “It stitches like a fabric and its use produces very little waste.

“We supply it on rolls 1,400mm wide and both the quality and the colour remain consistent,” he adds. So does the grain; a wide variety of surface grains are available.

It’s safe, says Parkinson. Produced in line with EC Directive 95/28 governing the flammability of materials, the fire retardant standards it complies with include BS 5852-2:2006 CRIB 7 and BS 476 Part 7 (Class 2).

Furthermore, it’s easy to keep it looking good. You can wipe it clean with soapy water.
Composition leather can be used as a roof lining and to line passenger saloon side panels in order to co-ordinate them with the seats.

E-Leather’s own manufacturing procedures are geared towards preserving the environment. The Peterborough factory recycles 95 per cent of the water it uses during processing while a thermal oxidiser has cut natural gas use by between 50 and 70 per cent.

Composition leather is now being used in aircraft – five airlines have opted for it – and trains and even in the taxi version of Mercedes-Benz’s Vito. You can buy footwear made from it and it’s employed in various other sectors of industry.

Sometimes used as piping or in inserts rather than to trim the entire seat, conventional leather is becoming increasingly popular, not just on coaches, but on buses run on selected routes; intercity services or routes patronised by commuters for example. Both it and composition leather are a long way from breaking moquette’s grip on the seat trim market however.