Some polyurethane foams are used as artificial or faux leather for shoes, upholstery in sofas, and iPad smart covers. Leather is tanned animal hide and is more expensive than polyurethane. However, polyurethane is not biodegradable and takes several centuries to decompose.
edit Polyurethane vs leather iPad covers
Smart covers for the iPad mini and the iPad are available in both leather and polyurethane.
Leather iPad covers cost $69 and are available in cream, tan, black, navy blue, and red. A portion a portion of the red color's proceeds will be donated to Product Red, a for-profit company that in turn donates a part of its revenue to charity. The leather case is softer than the polyurethane case and will show wear over time.
Polyurethane iPad covers cost $39 and are available in in pink, blue, green, light grey and dark grey. They are smooth to the touch and very durable.
Leather sofas are more expensive and age well. They can be cleaned with a damp cloth and are durable. However, leather can easily be scratched and can crack with age and use.
Polyurethane sofas are cheaper and more animal friendly than leather sofas. They are easier to care for, are very durable and are considered environmentally friendly. They also do not crack with use or fade under sunlight. However, they are more easily torn than real leather.
edit Uses as Fabric
Leather is a durable fabric that is often used to make shoes and bags, as well as other types of clothing. It is also often used as upholstery for furniture and in car interiors. However, it is heavy and can be very expensive.
Polyurethane is faux leather. It is a waterproof alternative, can be dry-cleaned and is lighter than real leather. It is also used to create spandex, including lycra, to waterproof fabrics, and to add buoyancy to competitive swimsuits.
Leather jackets are very durable and provide excellent protection from heat, cold and rain. However, they are bulky and require a lot of care to prevent the build-up of mildew or odors. Leather jackets cost between $250 and $450. For example, this Armani real leather jacket costs $280 on Amazon.
Polyurethane, or faux leather jackets are not as durable, but provide better protection from the rain. They require less care and can be washed. They are also lighter. However, their thinness means they offer less protection (e.g. for motorcyclists) and wear away faster than real leather. They are significantly cheaper and cost between $100 and $175.
edit Other Applications
The majority of polyurethane products are foams, such as those used inside furniture, refrigerator walls or for thermal insulation. It is also used for doorframes and column.
edit Environmental Issues
Leather has been criticized due to the use of chemicals in its tanning process and air pollution caused during dehairing and deliming. However, it is more biodegradable than polyurethane.
Polyurethane is chemical inert, and no exposure limits have been established by OSHA. However, it is combustible, and burning can produce harmful carbon monoxide. It is also not biodegradable.