Leather is a durable and versatile material that can be used to make a variety of garments, furniture items, and more. However, because leather is made from cow skin, it’s definitely not suitable for vegans.
But what about PU leather? What is it made of, and is it vegan-friendly? Is it suitable for vegans who have made this lifestyle choice for environmental reasons?
We’re going to discuss the reality of PU leather from both an animal rights and environmental perspective in today’s article to determine whether PU leather is really vegan.
PU Leather: What Is It?
If you’ve never heard of PU leather before, or just don’t know what it’s made of, PU leather stands for ‘polyurethane leather’. It’s a type of leather alternative made from polyurethane, which is a thermoplastic polymer.
PU leather is a fairly good replacement for real leather from a visual standpoint, although when you actually feel the material, it’s clearly thinner and depending on the finish used, it can also appear glossier than real leather.
Today, PU leather is used to create more affordable garments, accessories, and furniture items that would be more expensive and unsuitable for vegans if made from genuine leather.
Is PU Leather Suitable For Vegans?
Here’s the question you came to this article for: is PU leather suitable for vegans?
Because PU leather is made from polyurethane, there are no naturally-derived materials in this leather alternative, including animal parts or products.
This means that if you consider something to be vegan as long as it doesn’t contain anything that comes from an animal (which, admittedly, is the general definition of something that is vegan), PU leather is vegan-friendly.
When considering whether an item of clothing or any other product is vegan, however, a lot of vegans will also consider whether any animals are harmed during the production process.
Using cosmetic products as an example, a lip gloss might not contain any animal products or byproducts, but it might have been tested on animals, which for a lot of vegans would mean it doesn’t qualify as a vegan product.
Luckily, PU leather is not something that would be tested on animals during production, so there’s no need to worry about this aspect of the material’s vegan-friendliness.
However, research has shown that PU leather has an environmental impact post-production that not only creates a dilemma for those who are vegan for environmental reasons but may even have a negative effect on some animal populations long after manufacturing.
Is PU Leather Environmentally Friendly?
Unfortunately, while PU leather may be vegan due to the fact that it’s not made from or tested on any animals, it’s far from being environmentally-friendly.
This can cause a moral dilemma for many vegans because not all vegans make this lifestyle choice purely for animal welfare purposes.
Just as a percentage of the community is vegan for the health benefits, many vegans have adopted the lifestyle to try and counteract the environmental damage caused by the meat and dairy industries.
As we mentioned earlier, PU leather is made from a thermoplastic polymer. Essentially, it’s made of plastic, which is one of the main threats to the environment currently due to its inability to biodegrade.
The reality is that a lot of products made of PU leather ultimately end up in landfill, and while they can’t biodegrade, they can break down.
As the PU leather breaks down, chemicals called phthalates are released into the environment.
Phthalates are not healthy or safe for humans or animals to breathe in, which means that PU leather can harm animals and humans indirectly.
Additionally, both PU leather itself and the byproducts created during manufacturing contribute to plastic pollution in the ocean and are toxic to marine life.
Alternatives To PU Leather
Even though PU leather is technically vegan, many vegans may wish to avoid it because of the impact it has on the environment and, by extension, on marine life.
So, what vegan leather alternatives are available for those who want to make more sustainable choices without using animal products?
You might think that synthetic nylon products would present some of the same problems as PU leather because they’re both synthetic materials, but recycled nylon is actually a much more sustainable and environmentally-friendly faux-leather choice for vegans.
Recycled nylon helps contribute to the idea of a circular economy, which means reducing the impact of synthetic materials on the environment by making sure products don’t end up in landfill.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is PU-Coated Leather Vegan-Friendly?
In order to determine whether PU-coated leather is vegan-friendly, you will need to establish what the material underneath the coating is made from.
The PU coating itself will be vegan since it’s made from synthetic materials, but PU-coated clothing items are often made from real leather underneath, so you’ll need to verify this information first.
Is PU Vegan Leather Good Quality?
The quality of different PU leather items will vary depending on specific manufacturing practices, but the downside of vegan PU leather compared to real leather is that it definitely isn’t as durable.
PU leather creases and cracks more quickly and may even tear over time much more easily than genuine leather (see also ‘How To Fix Creased Shoes‘).
How Toxic Is PU Leather?
PU leather isn’t toxic to humans or animals until it starts to break down. When it does break down, it releases phthalates into the environment which can be harmful to breathe in.
PU leather is vegan in the sense that it’s not made from anything that comes from an animal. Instead, PU leather is made from a thermoplastic polymer, so it’s completely synthetic.
With that being said, some vegans may still wish to avoid PU leather in favor of recycled nylon faux leather because PU leather releases harmful phthalates into the environment as it breaks down and contributes to ocean pollution, endangering aquatic animals.
Please note that PU-coated clothing or furniture items may be made with real leather underneath the coating, which would mean that these products are not suitable for vegans.
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