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Vegan Leather Is Not Worse For The Environment Than Real Leather

Vegan Leather Is Not Worse For The Environment Than Real Leather

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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. 

foodprint5

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.

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0 Comments
  • Eva, thank you SO MUCH for sharing this.

  • Rose Louise

    OMG, yes, thank you for this! Animal skins rot if they’re not treated with a ton of toxic chemicals, which go on to poison workers and waterways. Plus, large-scale animal agriculture is incredibly harmful to the planet, from pollution to land degradation to loss of biodiversity, to say nothing of the harm it causes animals! If you’re going to wear leather, faux is the only way to go.

    • Cobus Brink

      OK, lets see if my post of 4 days ago will this time survive the sensor’s blade.

      I am now in my 27th year as a tannery worker and I have absolutely no health problems attributed to the chemicals we use, nor do I know or have known any person who have or had. We are also compelled by our Dept of Labour to run a medical surveillance program to spot any problems. We also have compulsory regular safety training.

      Some of the chemicals we use in making leather might be familiar to you as you use them in the home eg ammonia, caustic soda, salt, fat, acetic acid, bleach, etc. Yes, some can be dangerous but we are bound by law to use and discard them in a environmentally exceptable manner as dictated by government. Things like naphthalene, boric acid, formaldehyde, cadmium, lead, phthalates, etc has for many years now been on the banned substances list for leather manufacture, yet are still commonly found in most homes through other sources.

      The products we use to remove hair is the same found in hair remover products women use. The caustic soda we use to swell the skin is the same caustic soda you use in your oven cleaner. The soaps we use are environmentally friendly and biodegradable, unlike some nonyl phenol products still found in the home. The salt we use is the same as what you put in your food. The tanning chemical we
      use is chromium sulfate. Chromium is found in all your stainless steel ware in your kitchen. All discharge containing chemicals which are not bound chemically to the leather are kept separate and prevented from contaminating any other water supply. This discharge is run through an in-house effluent treatment plant before it is discharged into the municipal sewer system from where it goes to the towns effluent treatment plant for further cleaning. So we do whatever possible to limit our environmental impact. Can the average home owner say the same? How do they discard their hazardous waste eg paint containers, cleaning containers, batteries, CFTs, pressurized cans,
      aluminum foil, phenols from anti-bacterial cleaners, oxalic acid and hydrocloric acid from toilet cleaners, printer cartridges, old paint containing lead or cadmium, plastics containing phthalates, etc?

      There is no doubt that the farming of animals have a detrimental effect on the environment, but show me how one can farm with plants without the same land degradation and loss of biodiversity. Most human activities, frankly ALL of them has an detrimental effect on the planet.

      So it is good to be environmentally conscious but please do not fixate on one thing and loose a world full of harm in the process.

      • Lalasunflower

        Oh, calm down. It didn’t even show up on the back end of the commenting system. Posts only get deleted if they contain hate speech so for the good of all of us, take a few deep breaths and think about how absolutely silly you sound blathering about a “sensor’s blade.” Censor, dude.

        Also, welcome to a *vegan website* and the best of luck to you with changing anyone’s mind as you clearly welcome animal abuse with open arms.

        • Cobus Brink

          OK, so what does it mean when I post and my post is in grey text and start with the message “Hold on, this is waiting to be approved by Ecorazzi.” and it still shows as pending on my Disqus profile page even after 5 days?

          And please show me where I tried to change peoples minds away from being vegan. I did not even use the word “vegan”. I addressed certain inaccuracies about the tanning industry posted by Rose Louis, nothing more, nothing less. Does vegan people only need to know the truth as it suits them?

          • Lalasunflower

            What it means is that something you said was caught in the Disqus filter as being spam. I’ll check out the back end of the website if that will ease your worries.

            Popped around, found nothing from you before you commented at 10:02 four days ago. Obviously a bug with disqus and not on our end, so consider easing up on the rabble-rousing as you’ll notice none of your other comments have met any kind of guillotine of injustice.

            We might disagree with you, but nobody’s censoring here. You can check many other posts on Ecorazzi and see lots of anti-vegan sentiment that is left for the internet to do whatever they will with.

          • Cobus Brink

            Thanks, I’ll enquirer with Disqus as it still shows as pending on my profile.

            My text was basically a shortened version of the one above, except there was a link to a list of dangerous household chemicals include. Some sites does like to verify links before releasing but I do not see your T&C anywhere so not sure what you do.

  • Chantal DH

    Great to have an article like this so that we can respond when people tell us the exact same thing – that vegan leather is worse. TY for writing it.

  • Jungle Jim

    Eva, terrific article. I would add a couple of points. First, PVC faux leather can now be made 7P free (i.e., without the seven most common and dangerous phthalates). Second, there is a “dry” manufacturing process for polyurethane products that uses far less solvents that the traditional “wet” process. Moreover, virtually all the solvents that are used in the dry process are recyclable. While both these manufacturing processes are fairly new, it won’t be long before all PVC and polyurethane products are much, much greener.

  • Cobus Brink

    So what happened to my response posted nearly 24 hours ago? Is the misinformation spread here more important than the observations of someone with 26 years in the tanning industry?

    • Autumn Lucas

      Oh Cobus….

  • Autumn Lucas

    Brilliant! Thank you!!!

Veld donates money to farm animals and also serves them

Lest we be confused that their giant V logo stands for anything other than Veld.

Trading beef for beans is not a solution, veganism is

Please do substitute beef for beans, but also have tofu instead of turkey, carrots instead of chicken, and I think you see where I’m going.

Guys, extortion isn’t an effective form of vegan advocacy

Assuming we can extort people into respecting the lives of others makes no sense.