Nowadays, vegans aren’t just concerned with what they eat, but also with the consumer products that they use, according to a new report from Bloomberg. This means that vegans aren't just
snobs environmentally conscious about their food, but also about their clothing, accessories and consumer products now.
For instance, many are choosing to use vegan leather, which is a synthetic product generally made out of polyurethane chloride (PVC) and polyurethane. These blends are being used to avoid traditional leather, which is made from processed cowhides or sheepskin. There are also now synthetic leather products that are being made from corn, bark, pineapple leaves or apple peels. And while it may look the same, vegan leather doesn’t improve with age the way animal leather can.
Purchasing these types of alternatives, instead of products that involve suffering for animals, has become more appealing, especially for younger people in the United States and the United Kingdom. This has been no more evident than in the sales of meat alternatives, helped along by investors like Bill Gates who have put their money into developing these products.
And in the US, it seems as though vegan leather is actually starting to sell well. The online availability of it has more than doubled in the UK and is up 54% in the United States in the first half of 2018. Demand is the strongest in the footwear industry, where Americans have taken a new focus on covering their feet in animal-free sneakers.
The automobile industry has even caught on, after Tesla was urged to go vegan by its stakeholders. Global demand for synthetic leather is expected to grow 7% annually on the backs of both the footwear and auto industry. The market is predicted to reach $45 billion in 2025. In 2018, global traditional leather sales were estimated at $95.4 billion.
And there’s other appeals to vegan leather, too – it’s usually cheaper than traditional leather and it’s also easier to maintain, which is a selling point for car manufacturers. Vegan leather that’s made out of organic materials like pineapple leaves can sometimes cost more than the plastic variety, though it is still cheaper than traditional leather. Vegan leather's makeup isn't always as durable, however, because it’s much thinner than real leather, which can last for years.
But the kicker is whether or not vegan leather is actually better for the planet. Plastics used in making it, like PVC, are hardly environmentally friendly. Manufacturing of PVC releases dioxins, which could be dangerous in confined spaces and also if burnt. On the other hand, the organic vegan leathers that are made from pineapple leaves and apple peels can be converted into fertilizer or biogas.
The synthetic doesn't look too bad, either.
Genuine leather loses its environmental credentials when it is tanned using toxic chemicals. In addition, cows are massive emitters of greenhouse gases and require feed, land and water. Synthetic leather often uses petroleum at some point in its manufacturing, while traditional leather can be argued to be a byproduct of dairy and meat production that would otherwise go to waste.
And fake leather has been around for years, but the new natural versions have become especially appealing to a consumer that is trying to reduce their environmental footprint. Manufacturers are trying to increase the appeal of nature based substitutes by promoting them as being made from the waste of industries like the pineapple industry and the plastics industry. But the devil can still be in the details: even though pineapple fibers are extracted and processed without using chemicals, non-biodegradable petroleum is still used in the process.
And now the traditional leather industry has so much supply, as a result of record demand for US beef, that some of it is even heading to landfills - a situation that many in the industry once called "unimaginable".