Vegan Leather Is Not Worse For The Environment Than Real Leather
Last week, I was shared a news piece on the environmental implications of vegan leather. In it, two writers examine how “unethical” it is to opt for faux motorcycle jackets over the real deal, because the planet is hurting from its production. I had to read it a second time before I was able to collect my jaw from the floor, as they worked to dismantle the vegan message to establish an environmentalist one. Allow me to explain why vegan leather is not worse for the planet than real leather, and how veganism is a necessary component of being an environmentalist.
Why target faux leather only?
In establishing this argument, the authors try to pull a “gotcha” on vegans, as if faux leather is produced solely for us (it’s not). A cheap replacement for leather, they point out that it can be made from cork, barkcloth, glazed cotton, waxed cotton, paper, polyvinyl chloride (PVC), and polyurethane. However, they decide it’s only PVC and polyurethane that they’ll focus on, for their intended purposes. The reason these materials are so much more awful than animal use? Phthalates and solvents.
Phthalates and Solvents exist everywhere.
I mention this not as a scare tactic for the health conscious, but to establish that vegan leather isn’t the only product on the market that isn’t great for Mother Earth. It’s used in food containers, hair spray, deodorant, perfume, nail polish, vinyl flooring, cable coating, steering wheel’s, IV drip bags, sex toys, and a whole lot more. These authors might be surprised to learn that phthalates are in meat and dairy products, too. We can even ingest them when pesticide laden produce is involved. So let me get this straight – all we have to do is stopping making faux leather purses and the problems solved? Of course not.
What about solvents? We utilize them in our dry cleaning, paint thinners, spot removers, and nail polish (again). I’m starting to think this article should have asked environmentalist to stop supporting the couture nail industry instead.
Seriously, picking and choosing elements of fake leather production as being the worst thing vegans are doing for the world doesn’t look at the big picture. The consumerism and manufacturing practices of our planet are the problem, and going vegan is just one way that individuals can work to combat it.
Vegans don’t exclusively wear faux leather.
Here’s another shocker, I’m not decked out in head to toe leather right now. Initiation into the vegan club doesn’t require this material, and I’d like to believe that vegans could easily give up pleather products in favour of something more environmentally friendly. That being said, could meat eaters give up eating animals to be better environmentalists?
So how “clean” is real leather?
People already know that wearing leather means paying to have a cow killed. I’m not sure how, but many are able to look past that part quickly. But what they often don’t know (and convinced the opposite of) is that it’s not just a cow they’re wearing. “The skin is then thinned, re-tanned, lubricated, and, if required, dyed. This process uses several chemicals and toxins including ammonia; cyanide-based dyes, formaldehyde; and lead. Some of these products are carcinogenic, and all are environmental pollutants, which end up released into the air, ground, and water supply. Of course, these processes are especially polluting in countries where environmental regulations aren’t enforced.” This doesn’t include the more commonly addressed ecological disaster in raising cows – 150 million gallons of methane they produce daily.
Producing leather is not only an ethical vegan matter, but one that impacts leather workers, their countries, and the world. Rather than calling it an “advantage” for meat-eaters to make use of the skin, as these authors do, they should see that it’s helping support our already devastating animal agriculture practices, not making up for them. One heinous act should not cancel out the other, when not partaking in both is an option.
Animal agriculture is a leader in resource depletion and environmental degradation.
With stats like 29% of the world’s fresh water being used for animal production, animal agriculture being the number one cause of rainforest destruction, and animal agriculture being responsible for 65% of the human-caused nitrous oxide emissions, I once again come back to the point that all the vegan leather in the world still does not touch the industries that continue to coerce people into using animals for food, clothing, and entertainment.
Many aren’t taught that buying leather directly contributes to animal agriculture because cow skin is the most economically important “byproduct” of the meat industry. In fact, “making up half of all profits of slaughterhouses that process cattle, leather is a not a by-product, it is a co-product. This means that leather helps make the meat industry—and animal farming—profitable, which is destroying the planet.” This helps make another strong case for veganism. It’s not enough to merely cut out or cut down on meat if people continue supporting the dairy and leather industries. Both continue to unnecessarily take lives and in doing so, also hurt the environment. A vegan diet is the fastest way we can have a tangible impact, starting with our next meal.
Graph by Shrink That Footprint
The authors say “Obviously, for the vegan whose ethical concerns favor animal life above all else, leather is out. But for those who don’t put animal ethics at the top of the list, there are other factors at play.” I argue that putting animal ethics at the top of the list will result in a better planet. The vegan movement doesn’t sacrifice the good of the Earth to save animals. Veganism and environmentalism go hand in hand, and we cannot participate in one while turning a blind eye to the other.