As most people are aware, there are alternatives to real leather.
In this guide, we provide an overview of whether faux leather/pleather is eco friendly, sustainable and animal friendly.
If you want to read our previous guide on real leather, you can do so here.
Summary – Is Faux Leather/Pleather Eco Friendly, Sustainable & Animal Friendly?
The main trade off with faux leather/pleather is that animals are not used or farmed to make this material.
However, faux leather is made out of chemicals like petrochemicals, which makes it not very eco friendly or sustainable.
It also takes a very long time to biodegrade and can break down and produce micro-plastics (microscopic pieces of plastic).
With faux leather, it must be considered that it is a product/material with different features and qualities than real leather.
What Is Artificial Leather, & What Is It Used For?
- Artificial leather is a material intended to substitute for leather in upholstery, clothing, footwear, and other uses where a leather-like finish is desired but the actual material is cost-prohibitive or unsuitable.
- Artificial leather is marketed under many names, including “leatherette”, “faux leather”, “vegan leather”, “PU leather” and “pleather”.
What Is Faux Leather & Pleather Made Of?
- [fake leather is] made from oil in the form of plastic – either PVC or polyurethane. Pleather is simply a slang term for “plastic leather”, made by bonding the plastic to a fabric backing.
Types Of Faux Leather
- Plastic/Polyurethane Faux Leather – made from a plastic coating (usually a polyurethane) on a fibrous base layer (typically a polyester). The type of polyurethane used in a piece of clothing is only one part of the environmental equation. Its impact will also depend on the quality of the supply, the way it’s put onto fabric, and the sorts of chemistry used in every step of the manufacturing process. With so many steps, there is plenty of opportunity for bad things to happen
- PVC Faux Leather – is also made by covering a fabric base with a plastic. The fabric can be made of natural or synthetic fiber which is then covered with a soft polyvinyl chloride (PVC) layer. This is less popular now due to concerns over the last few years about … production challenges and because they release dioxins, potentially hazardous chemicals, if burnt. Increasing the worries are substances known as phthalates … which is a plasticizer that can leach out … and depending on the type of phthalate used, can be toxic
Other less common Faux Leather types can include:
- Cork leather is a natural-fiber alternative made from the bark of cork oak trees that has been compressed
- Faux leather can also be made of barkcloth, glazed cotton, waxed cotton, and paper
– wikipedia.org, and vocativ.com
- Polyurethane is currently more popular for use [in faux leathers] than PVC.
Carbon Footprint Of Faux Leather, & Energy Use
- The polyurethane version [of faux leather has] plenty of CO2 is emitted during the production.
- According to the Association of Plastics Manufacturers in Europe, producing a pound of polyurethane emits 3.7 lbs. of CO2 – slightly less than burning a gallon of gas.
Water Use Of Faux Leather
- According to a report by globalfashionagenda.com, faux leather doesn’t have as much of an impact on water scarcity as real leather
Environmental Pollution By Faux Leather, & Impact On Humans & Animals/Wildlife
- The PVC version of pleather is made from polyvinyl chloride, which is loathed by Greenpeace, calling it the “most damaging plastic on the planet,” because its production releases dioxins and persistent organic pollutants. The polyurethane version doesn’t have quite the same toxicity problems as PVC
- The production of the PVC used in the production of many artificial leathers requires a plasticizer called a phthalate to make it flexible and soft.
- PVC requires petroleum and large amounts of energy thus making it reliant on fossil fuels.
- During the production process carcinogenic byproducts, dioxins, are produced which are toxic to humans and animals.
- Dioxins remain in the environment long after PVC is manufactured.
- When PVC ends up in a landfill it does not decompose like genuine leather and can release dangerous chemicals into the water and soil.
Faux Leather Pros & Cons, Features, & Differences To Real Leather
Differences between real leather and faux leather depend on the manufacturer and where it’s made of course.
But, there can be some common differences.
Faux leather can be:
- Inexpensive compared to real leather
- Lighter than real leather
- Can be more durable that real leather
- Doesn’t decompose as quickly as real leather in the environment
- The PVC version does not breathe and can be very hard to clean – it’s not often used for surfaces that come in contact with the skin.
- The polyurethane version is usually machine washable and can be dry cleaned. It’s also slightly breathable, softer, and more flexible.
[Pleather is] lighter than real leather … It doesn’t wrinkle. It travels really well. It’s waterproof, so if you wear it in the rain it completely repels water.
… unlike actual leather, the technology can be gamed to suit design strategies. “It’s very hard to alter the surface of a cow
- One disadvantage of plastic-coated artificial leather is that it is not porous and does not allow air to pass through; thus, sweat can accumulate if it is used for clothing, car seat coverings, etc.
- One of its primary advantages, especially in cars, is that it requires little maintenance in comparison to leather, and does not crack or fade easily.
- Leather … is another hurdle entirely [compared to faux leather]. Apart from animal welfare issues, leather tanneries use toxic chemicals that pose severe health risks to workers and surrounding communities, usually in regions like Bangladesh, India, and China where government protections are scarce, and end up in local waterways.
- Leather also tends to be less controversial because cow hides and sheepskins are co-products of the food industry [and livestock generally aren’t just raised for the sole purpose of leather].
New Technology & Developments With Faux Leather
New technology and developments are always being research and explored with real leather and conventional faux leather alternatives:
- [there is a] leather alternative [in development] which is entirely non-plastic, and bio-based: it’s made from flax or cotton fibers, which are laminated together in layers using palm, corn, soybean or other plant oils to create a leather-like material. And unlike pleather – it’s breathable.
- We’re seeing a third lane emerge [apart from real leather and plastic/PVC faux leather]: biofabricated leathers, which are grown in a lab using animal-free collagen … that looks and feels like animal skins, without compromising the environment or animal welfare. [but, in reality, bioleather and also bio fur is scientifically challenging]
- What we do know for sure is that cheap, disposable clothing (and our habit of buying and throwing out so much of it) is wreaking havoc on the environment, so choosing high-quality pieces that will hold up over time, shopping vintage where possible and making conscientious choices about your wardrobe is always a step in the right direction.
- A fermentation method of making collagen, the main chemical in real leather, is under development.
Cradle To Grave Environmental Impact Of Faux Leather
You can find a cradle to the grave environmental impact of faux leather and other materials at:
Some Forms Of Ethical Real Leather Are Becoming Available
- [some sustainable fashion advocates choose] animal by-product furs over synthetics because of the environmental impact of the latter, [but] the trade-off is that they aren’t cruelty-free. [one brand uses] Kudu skins produced from government-regulated culling, locally-sourced rabbit and springbok in Kenya and South Africa, and vegetable dyes.