Why Faux Leather is Bad For The Environment
News reports would have us believe that faux leather, or pleather, is better for the planet than leather.
But the truth is, it isn’t.
Yes, faux leather doesn’t impact animal welfare, but the detrimental impact it has on the environment in undeniable. Of course almost any manufactured product will, at some point have an environmental cost, leather notwithstanding. But the myriad of reasons why pleather does far more damage to the environment when compared to leather, can not be ignored.
If you really cared about the environment and you dig down into faux leather, you wouldn’t touch it with a barge pole.
Because not only is the manufacturing of faux leather harmful to the environment, but when the pleather has had its day and it needs to go to landfill, wasting it also harms the environment.
Faux leather is typically made from some form of plastic. The two most commonly used plastics to become pleather are polyvinyl chloride, also known as PVC, and polyurethane, PU. And these two, whilst being the most commonly used fake leather materials, are also the worst materials for the environment.
As mentioned above, PVC is renowned for being environmentally unfriendly. From the very beginning of its manufacture, PVC releases harmful toxins and requires highly toxic chemicals to make it. In fact, Greenpeace have dubbed PVC ‘the single most environmentally damaging type of plastic’. So if you’re trying to get vegan credentials and getting slammed by Greenpeace in the process, you’re clearly barking up the wrong tree.
PU on the other hand, whilst being more environmentally friendly than PVC, still has its roots in fossil fuels, being derived from oil. And the production process for manufacturing PU is still toxic, just not as toxic as PVC, but still, not great.
And to add insult to injury, when you compare the lifespan of fake leather with real leather, the two don’t even compare. If you look after your leather jacket or leather products with a modicum of care, they will last you forever.
Fake leather just isn’t designed to last, it isn’t manufactured for a long life. And so when it breaks or comes to the end of its short life, fake leather is just plastic at the end of the day.
Fun fact - every piece of plastic that has ever been made is still in existence today. Plastic just doesn’t break down. Well, it does, but when it breaks down it becomes microscopic particles, so essentially one big chunk of plastic that can potentially be managed becomes millions of pieces of plastic that are impossible to remove from the ecosystem.
The Dangers of Vegan Leather
Faux leather or pleather is often touted as ‘vegan leather’, a product that is produced without causing any harm to any animals. And the image of veganism is one of health, of being kind to the environment, of being socially conscious, but vegan leather couldn’t be further from any of those things.
Yes, some vegan leathers are made from plant based materials, but these aren’t common nor are they as ‘friendly’ as they make out to be. So whilst vegan leather is not made from any animal material, its overall impact on the environment is far worse than that of leather, simply because the majority of vegan leather is made from plastic.
And if you’re comparing the net environmental impact of leather vs faux leather, the material made from fossil fuels is always going to emerge the loser.
And even those fake leathers that are made from plant bases still require something for the fibres to stick to, and most of the time, that adhesive is plastic based. So whilst the main vegan leather isn’t plastic per se, it still contains more plastic than leather, polluting the environment through its reliance on fossil fuels.