How Environmentally Friendly is Vegan Leather?

More people are becoming vegan. It is one of the world’s largest fastest growing lifestyles with a 500% increase year on year since 2014. The lifestyle is defined by the Vegan society as “A philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude—as far as is possible and practicable—all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose; and by extension, promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of humans, animals and the environment. In dietary terms, it denotes the practice of dispensing with all products derived wholly or partly from animals.”

This would suggest an ideology based on no cruelty, but what are the implications of using artificial materials instead of organic leather?

Fake, Faux and Vegan Leather

Fake leather, faux leather, vegan leather and pleather (plastic leather) are all the same thing. The variety of materials used can vary but they generally are made from synthetics and sometimes materials like cork.

The most commonly used materials of synthetic leathers are polyvinylchloride (PVC) and polyurethane (PU). These materials are environmentally hazardous and have been described by Greenpeace as “the single most environmentally damaging type of plastic.” PVC released dioxins which are dangerous, especially if burned. These materials are also made from virgin oil, so are unsustainable. Synthetic leathers are known for having strange scents famed for having a “fishy” smell.

Though acceptable to vegans who seek to use materials hat not derived from animals, synthetic leather is far worse for the environment than organic leather. The production of them uses huge amounts of energy, oil and releases huge amounts of toxins into the environment. Most of the processes for the production of synthetic leather end up release huge amounts of chemicals into rivers and natural habitats for wild animals. This damage to the environment comes in the form of toxins including dioxins which can cause developmental problems, reproductive issues and even cause cancer in both humans and animals. Synthetic leathers are also non-biodegradable, meaning they will be breaking down centuries after their production, usually releasing toxins that can damage animals and fish. So much for the animal welfare agenda of vegans!

What’s it like to wear?

Synthetic leathers are far less durable than organic leathers. It is thinner and less durable. Meaning your clothes won’t last nearly as long as organic leather. When synthetic leathers start to wear out, they quickly degrade and aren’t attractive, whereas real leather looks better with age. PVC is also non-breathable, making you sweatier when you wear it.


Synthetic leathers, like all synthetic fibres, are hugely environmentally damaging. The production of them is harmful and they won’t last as long as real leather. This means buying more items which will be produced from virgin oil, meaning it has to be taken out of the ground to make it. The process of producing synthetic leather damages natural habitats of animals far more than real leather. If you choose vegan leather because of a belief system based on no cruelty to animals, it would be wise to consider the impact on wild animals from its production and work out how much animals really mean to you before making your choice on synthetic leathers.

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