Everything you need to know about vegan leather and the environment

Everything you need to know about vegan leather and the environment

Vegan leather is made without the use of animal products. It also excludes products tested on animals. So essentially, no animals are ever hurt in the making of vegan leather.

Is Vegan Leather more environmentally friendly?

Not necessarily. That’s where things can get a little tricky. Vegan leather leaves a lower carbon footprint.

However, if it is made with synthetic and plastic materials such PVCs and PU or Polyurethane, the environmental hazards go far beyond carbon emissions. These materials are cheap and therefore widely used. Unfortunately, they are also petroleum-based, release highly toxic compounds into the environment, are not biodegradable and contribute to microplastics pollution.

It is important to reinforce that these types of plastic are highly harmful to the environment. Quite often, our world and oceans would be better off if we stick to using natural, biodegradable materials.

PVC contaminates humans, animals and the environment throughout its lifecycle during its production, use and disposal. While all plastics pose severe threats to human health and the environment, few consumers realize that PVC is the single most environmentally damaging of all plastics.

PU or polyurethane and other poly composite microfibers are also a problem. The solvents used for producing polyurethane-based synthetic leather are highly toxic. And unlike animal leather, a product made out of PU also won’t biodegrade anytime soon either, and neither can it be recycled.

The truth is that more often than not, vegan leather gets an environmentally-friendly reputation it certainly does not deserve. The fashion industry needs to innovate and find cost-effective and more environmentally friendly alternatives to animal leather.

There are multiple plant-based leather developments in the fashion industry.

However, they tend to be the exception, not the rule. That’s why it is always helpful to ask manufacturers exactly what type of vegan leather they use.


Cactus, Pineapple and Mushroom leather have been developed. However, none of them is as widely used as plastic-based alternatives.


By now, you may be thinking that natural leather might be a more environmentally friendly alternative due to its durability and biodegradability. But, unfortunately, it is not.

Even if we were willing to set aside carbon emissions, waste pollution and animal cruelty – which we are not – natural leather is often tanned using chromium, formaldehyde and other cyanide-based substances. These highly toxic chemicals pollute waterways, poison animals and are highly harmful to tannery workers.

It is essential to note that genuine leather does not biodegrade if treated with chromium or other metals. Sadly, around 90% of all leather produced globally uses chromium, while approximately 10% use artisanal vegetable tanning processes, which are slower, more complex to perform, but kinder on the planet.


Most tanneries use chrome-based tanning processes, polluting the waterways, compromising the workers’ health, and transforming natural leather into a non-biodegradable material.


So, what’s the alternative? We already sensed it. The option is recycling.

The most environmentally friendly product is the one that already exists.

Recycle and reuse. Any product already made with natural or vegan leather is always much better being used rather than sitting in a landfill for decades or even centuries. Buying second-hand items or repurposing the products you already own is the most environmentally friendly thing you can do. Here at Akili, we picked the best of both worlds with a range of Vegan Shoes and Bags handmade with recycled materials.

And if you need to purchase new items and cannot find new products made with recycled materials, if opting for durable natural leather, enquire about production ethics and choose leather produced using vegetable tanning methods. If buying vegan leather, prefer plant-based and stay away from PU and PVC leather. In either case, avoid fast-fashion, low-quality items and choose high-quality ethically handmade products. They will last longer and have a lower environmental – and social – impact.

Reducing consumption is always a good idea:


Buy Less. Choose Well. Make it Last.

Vivienne Westwood


In summary, buying high-quality products ensure you will be able to use them for a long time. In addition, buying second hand gives a new life to products that would otherwise pollute the environment.


By Fabi Alvarez: Fabi is a marketeer, product developer and sustainable living advocate with 18 years of experience in startups, not-for-profits and market leaders worldwide.

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