Vegan leather has increased in popularity in recent years with those who don’t eat meat as well as those who are looking for sustainable forms of clothing. But is vegan leather biodegradable and is it as sustainable as people think?
What is Vegan Leather?
Vegan leather is usually made from polyurethane, a polymer that is a type of plastic and is derived from petroleum. Vegan leather can also be made from sustainable materials such as cork, pineapple leaves, other forms of fruit waste and recycled plastic. There is even a company called Desserto making vegan leather clothes from the cactus plant.
All of these materials can be processed and turned into a fabric or textile suitable for making clothes, shoes and accessories.
Is Vegan Leather Biodegradable?
Vegan leather can be biodegradable if made from the right raw materials.
Vegan leather made from polyurethane is not biodegradable because the base material plastic isn’t biodegradable.
Vegan leather made from cactus leaves can be biodegradable as long as no synthetic additives have been used to process the plant into the finished material.
The problem is that polyurethane and plastic resin is often used to make vegan leather, regardless of whether a plant-based base material is used or not.
Is Vegan Leather Eco Friendly?
It depends on how it has been manufactured.
No vegan leather made from virgin plastic is sustainable, but vegan leather made from cactus leaves with minimal petrochemical or synthetic additives used in the process can be sustainable.
Plastic is so harmful to the environment because it has been refined from crude oil which is a non-renewable resource. Crude oil also takes a lot of energy to process and produces a lot of pollution.
The problem continues after plastic has been made because it isn’t always recycled and can find its way into natural watercourses where it becomes a microplastic that is harmful to marine life.
Even the most sustainable vegan leathers contain small amounts of plastic to make the material suitable for clothing which negatively impacts their environmentally friendly credentials.
There is a company called Will’s Vegan Store which is trying to replace polyurethane with bio-oil and viscose (derived from eucalyptus bark) in their vegan leather products.
Is Vegan Leather Better than Animal Leather?
That is subjective. Vegan leather products don’t contain animal skins which can be argued as a good thing. They also don’t use the strong chemicals used in the leather tanning process.
On the other hand, plastic is almost always used in vegan leather which is not sustainable.
Vegan leather can be a viable alternative to animal leather if produced sustainably. The amount of plastic used should be minimized and the raw materials used should be farmed sustainably.
As vegan leather improves, it should become biodegradable and recyclable which will improve its eco credentials and potentially replace animal leather for good.