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Are Vegan Products Bad for the Environment?
Since becoming a vegetarian I have refused to buy leather or any other animal skin products. I have recently become very concerned about synthetic materials, however. Is it worse to use leather products or synthetics in terms of global ethics? Nearly all synthetic products are created from oil. These materials will take centuries to decompose, if at all. Synthetic products are grossly accumulating in landfills, and the chemicals required to create them and the pollutants from the manufacturing process are being dispersed into the environment. What is the best alternative?
Animals do not 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; though, more typically, multiple lives are needlessly sacrificed for this human indulgence, because one animal’s body covering usually is insufficient to make a single piece of 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, nor the marketplace yet brimming, reasonable replacements for leather and wool do exist. Synthetic leathers are flexible, sturdy, “breathe,” and preserve all the functional qualities of animal hides without the slaughter. Although a few large corporations produce the majority of these products, several small start-up companies make 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.
Since 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 apparel are arguably as bad, if not worse, for the environment than the processes involved in producing oil-based synthetics. These chemicals pollute the environment and are especially hazardous as runoff that contaminates our ground water 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; thus they do not break down in landfills.
Leather and similar animal-derived products are the direct result of willful, premeditated murder. Harm caused by petroleum-based goods is secondary, because it is 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 an individual’s head.
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