Nearly all synthetic materials are created from petroleum derivatives and will take centuries to decompose, if they decompose all. In addition, synthetic products are rapidly accumulating in landfills, and the chemicals required to create and manufacture them are being dispersed into our air, land, and water. What is the best alternative?
Animals don't have a closet full of clothing; what nature provides is all they possess. In order for humans to use an animal’s skin, fur, fleece, or feathers, they must deny the animal its basic needs and inevitably take its life. Every piece of animal-derived apparel entails a minimum of one life. However, more typically, multiple lives are needlessly sacrificed for this indulgence because one animal’s body covering usually is insufficient to make a single piece of human attire.
Every day, more and more vegan alternatives are becoming available because there is a growing demand for them. While the situation is not yet ideal and the mainstream marketplace isn't overflowing with options, reasonable replacements for leather and wool readily exist. Synthetic leathers are flexible, sturdy, “breathe,” and preserve all the functional qualities of animal hides without the bloodshed. Although just a handful of companies produce the majority of these products, several small start-ups are putting out fantastic vegan “pleather” shoes and jackets, and some manufacture their goods from vegan recyclables, making them more environmentally sound as well as practical. The same is true for polar fleece articles, which can be spun from recycled plastics and other reusable items. In addition, these products are durable, so they seldom need to be replaced.
Because animal products are made from once-living beings, it would seem at first glance that they would be more environmentally sound because all living things decompose after death. But this particular characteristic is at the core of the environmental problems with using animal skins. Leather is organic and needs to be chemically treated so it doesn’t deteriorate while being worn. The chemicals used to tan hides and preserve leather shoes, bags, and other apparel are arguably as bad, if not worse, for the environment than the processes involved in producing petroleum-based synthetics. These chemicals pollute the environment and are especially hazardous as runoff that contaminates our groundwater and waterways. In addition, the chemicals used in preserving leather pollute the atmosphere through off-gassing (the same as plastics). Tanned leathers are intended to last for decades or longer; consequently, they don't break down in landfills.
Leather and similar animal-derived products are the direct result of slaughter for profit. Harm caused by petroleum-based goods is ancillary because it's not the primary motive of the industries that produce them. The distinction between these two industries and their products revolves around intention as well as repercussion. Both the leather and plastics industries wreak environmental havoc, but only one aims its artillery at the heads of living beings.
Fortunately, creative, environmentally safe, animal-free options are continually being developed, which eradicates the need to choose one evil over another. Plants and plant fibers (from unexpected sources such as pineapple leaves and mushroom caps), organic cotton, waxed or glazed cotton, tree bark, hemp, recycled synthetic fibers, cork, and recycled rubber are just a few of the wide-ranging choices we have for alternatives to leather and other animal-based commodities. Look for items made from these environmentally friendly resources and you won't have to make any concessions at all. In addition, you'll be voting with your dollars to help support the companies and cottage industries that produce them.