Vegan leather by definition is a material that doesn't originate from animals. This, of course, is a great thing because no animals are harmed in the process, not to mention that the processing of bovine hides is not just harmful, it’s also extremely polluting.
Vegan leather is not unquestionably better for the environment than the animal version.
Vegan leather by definition is a material that doesn't originate from animals. This, of course, is a great thing because no animals are harmed in the process, not to mention that the processing of bovine hides is not just harmful, it’s also extremely polluting. Yet, it doesn’t mean that everything vegan is naturally good for the environment or actually sustainable.
Synthetic leather most of the time stands for plastic leather or “pleather” and is made of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) or polyurethane (PU). Both are fossil fuel-derived components that are bound to a textile backing with the help of chemicals in order to produce faux leather.
Let’s have a closer look at the production of fake leather which is very different from the production of animal leather. It’s a much faster and cheaper process and it’s considered to have a 60-70% smaller environmental effect than traditional leather production. However, unfortunately, it is still not free of dangerous chemicals, not to mention the impact plastic has on the planet after its end-of-life.
PVC, which Greenpeace simply calls “The Poison Plastic” harms the planet and everyone on it during its whole life cycle. This chlorine-based material is the most dangerous one of all plastics. It releases toxic dioxins when it’s burnt, not to mention that the phthalates used to make it more flexible can cause developmental and reproductive issues, or even cancer.
We can meet PU more often in our day-to-day life and it’s slightly less harmful than PVC. However, it also releases hazardous toxins during manufacturing, and due to its high flammability, PU needs to be treated with flame retardants, almost all of which are considered harmful. Plastic doesn’t sound like the perfect alternative anymore, right?
The production of synthetic leather might be better for the environment than the production of animal leather, depending on how you look at it, but we cannot forget about the fact that plastic leather alternatives have a much shorter lifespan than traditional leather. They can be used a maximum of a few years before they start to break down and deteriorate, and they also shred microplastics into the air, water, and onto our skin. Essentially, replacing a faux leather item over and over again can arguably be worse than purchasing a leather item that lasts for a decade.
When it comes to the end-of-life, PVC-based fake leather doesn’t biodegrade and it can release dangerous chemicals into the water and soil. PU-based alternatives can be recycled or broken down but it’s a long process and using heat or chemicals to decompose it can also release toxins.
This doesn’t mean that faux leather has a worse effect on our lives and on our planet than bovine leather. It means that it has negative effects that we, as consumers, should be aware of and look at products with a critical eye before we let buzzwords control our decisions.
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