Category Archives: General

Is Vegan Leather Eco-Friendly?

by Michelle C. Pardo

While shopping for shoes or handbags, you may have seen an increasingly available species of product made from “vegan leather”.  As you can imagine, vegan leather, also known as synthetic leather, is not derived from animals, and it can be made from a variety of materials, including cork, waxed or glazed cotton, paper, polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and polyurethane. It has been touted as an ethical and environmentally conscious buying decision. However, assuming that these materials are making the most environmentally-friendly choice may be accurate.  As it turns out, while most “eco-friendly” products are “animal friendly”, not all “animal friendly” products are “eco-friendly”. The reason? PVC and polyurethane are the most common materials used for synthetic leather, but are criticized for their carbon-intensive footprint and lack of biodegradability.

Animal activists, vegans and other fans of non-animals products may not realize that synthetic leather may actually be more hazardous to the environment than genuine leather products. PVC and phthalates have met with growing concern among environmentalists. PVCs release chlorine gas and dioxins during the combustion and incineration cycles necessary for production. As a rigid plastic, PVC also requires that plasticizers like phthalates be added to make the material flexible. These materials are heavily dependent upon petroleum and can “leach” out as they break down over time, which has added to their scrutiny. Even those products made from plant-based leather alternatives still require something to adhere the fibers together and therefore often rely upon plastic-based adhesives, the production of which utilizes fossil fuels.

Polyurethane, while arguably a better alternative than PVC from an environmental standpoint, has its own challenges. Polyurethane, as a microfiber-based synthetic, requires a chemical-intensive production process, is not biodegradable, and has a shorter shelf life than genuine leather or PVC products.

The bulk of hides used in leather production is a byproduct of cattle raised for beef production. While the leather tanning process has been criticized for its use of chemicals like formaldehyde and coal-tar derivatives and water pollution, leather may have the edge over PVC and polyurethane due to its sustainability. Leather lasts longer and the leather products that develop wear or patina are still found to be attractive and usable, leading to longer use and recycling. Faux leather does not breakdown like real leather and is subject to “down recycling” meaning that it cannot be made into another item of faux leather.

Recyclable and renewable products aren’t new to the fashion industry. Shoes made from post-consumer plastic water bottles and recycled tires, hemp, cork and natural and recycled rubber are gaining mainstream appeal among even those consumers who do not have an ethical or philosophical objection to wearing real leather.

The edge for synthetic leather may eventually go to those products that aren’t made from PVC, polyurethane or products with environmentally-problematic production effects, such as those made from fruit.  A new product in the synthetic leather market, called “Pinatex” is made from waste pineapple leaves. Pineapple fibers apparently have the strength and flexibility needed for the manufacturing process. As a byproduct of agriculture, the pineapple leaves are a categorized as a “total waste product”. By taking a waste product and “upscaling” it into something of value, no additional land, water, pesticides, or fertilizers are necessary in the initial production phase. According to the Pinatex website, “the leaves are the byproduct of existing agriculture, and their use creates an additional income stream for farming communities”. Handbags, shoe, and other accessories using Pinatex have already hit the marketplace.

We previously blogged about the development of lab-grown or cell-cultured meat and how this may impact the agriculture industry.  Like the agriculture industry, fashion manufacturers are also turning to the laboratory to develop technology for lab-grown leather. Modern Meadow, a company with headquarters in New Jersey, focuses on “biofabrication”, which involves engineering the DNA of yeast cells to produce collagen proteins.  The collagen proteins are then formed into sheet material and then minimally tanned according to an “ethically mindful process”. Modern Meadow intends to bring its biofabricated material to the marketplace in the next few years.

The long-term growth and success of synthetic leathers will ultimately come down to consumer’s preference, the companies’ abilities to scale up their production to dominate the fashion industry, and the environmental and sustainability issues that accompany the materials.  However, whether a product is truly “environmentally friendly” remains a complicated and multi-factorial analysis.

Ninth Circuit Rejects Enviro Challenge to Forest Service’s Motorized Big Game Retrieval Plan

By John M. Simpson.

On May 6, 2019, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit rejected environmental groups’ challenges  to travel management plans issued by the U.S. Forest Service (Service) pursuant to the Service’s Travel Management Rule in three Ranger Districts in the Kaibab National Forest:  the Williams, Tusayan and North Kaibab Ranger Districts.  WildEarth Guardians, et al. v. Provencio, No. 17-17373 (9th Cir. May 6, 2019).  The court of appeals concluded that the Service’s actions were not contrary to the Travel Management Rule and complied with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA).  Continue reading Ninth Circuit Rejects Enviro Challenge to Forest Service’s Motorized Big Game Retrieval Plan

California Cracks Down on Impulse Purchases of Easter Bunnies

by Michelle C. Pardo

Yes, it’s a thing.  Across the country, “impulse buys” of bunnies during Easter time result in thousands of rabbits being abandoned or brought to animal shelters when the novelty of the cuddly pet wears off.  In October of 2017, California banned the sale of commercially-bred dogs, cats and rabbits at pet stores.  Potential owners instead have to acquire these animals from animal shelters or rescue organizations or buy them directly from a breeder unless the pet store sells rescued animals.  Continue reading California Cracks Down on Impulse Purchases of Easter Bunnies

Study Shows Racism and Sexism Contribute to Animal Activist “Burnout”

by John M. Simpson.

A study was published recently in Social Movement Studies entitled “Nobody’s paying me to cry:  the causes of activist burnout in United States animal rights activists.”  The authors concluded that, while many factors play a role, racist and sexist treatment of individuals within animal rights groups also contributed to what the authors described as “burnout:”  “when people once deeply embedded in movements – people who intended to remain engaged – are forced to disengage due to the stress impacts of participation.” Continue reading Study Shows Racism and Sexism Contribute to Animal Activist “Burnout”

Pigeon Seeks Election as “Animal Mayor”

by John M. Simpson

As recently reported, a pigeon in the London borough of Lewisham named “Tony” has been proposed by an online petition to be the town’s “Animal Mayor.”  The petition requests that the existing mayor and borough council create this position which would be “the figure head and forum to bring everyone together.”  According to the petition, “if we had a more respectful and empathetic view of Lewhisham’s non-human residents, we would try harder to protect the environment.”  Tony’s entertaining campaign video indicates that he would rename the borough, which has 300,000 inhabitants, “Zooisham.”   Evidently, the campaign would be “run online and open to every resident of Lewisham aged 5 and above.”  Perhaps Tony will have some insights on Brexit strategy.


The Case of the Austin Blind Salamander

By Michelle Pardo

Question: What do you get when you cross an Austin Blind salamander, a Barton Springs salamander, a golden-cheeked warbler, and a Texas highway project?

Answer: An Endangered Species lawsuit.

On February 28, 2019, environmental advocacy group Save Our Springs (SOS) and frequent litigator Center for Biological Diversity (Center) sent a 60-Day Notice of Intent to Sue letter to the Texas Department of Transportation (TexDOT), the US Department of Interior and the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), which is a prerequisite to filing a lawsuit pursuant to the  Endangered Species Act (ESA).

The ESA is a federal law that prohibits the “taking” of threatened and endangered species, 16 USC § 1538; “take” has means to harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, would, kill, trap, capture or collect (or attempt such conduct).

The environmental groups claim that the construction of the MoPac Intersections Project, a federally-funded highway project for which the TexDOT is the lead agency, risks an illegal “take” of three endangered species. According to the city of Austin’s official government website, the Austin Blind Salamander gets its name because it does not have “image-forming eyes”, a result of living in its dark, underground habitat in the waters of Barton Springs. The aptly-named Barton Springs salamander shares this same habitat. The other critter named in the potential lawsuit – the golden-cheeked warbler – was one of the eight endangered species protected by the first major urban habitat plan in the country. The groups claim that tree removal due to construction impacts the warbler’s nesting and foraging behaviors. Continue reading The Case of the Austin Blind Salamander

PETA Jumps the Shark with Steve Irwin Tweets

by John M. Simpson.

As recently reported by the BBC,  and by other media outlets, PETA went off the rails on Friday by disparaging the name of Steve Irwin on the occasion of what would have been his 57th birthday.  Irwin was a wildlife conservationist, enthusiast and television performer well known for his interesting and often breath-taking interactions with wildlife, crocodiles in particular.  Irwin died in 2006 after a fatal interaction with a stingray during a wildlife program shoot. Continue reading PETA Jumps the Shark with Steve Irwin Tweets

California Bill Would Allow Drivers To Legally Eat Roadkill

by: Michelle Pardo

The “You Kill It, You Grill It” headline dominated yesterday’s news across California and other internet media outlets. California State Senator Bob Archuleta (D-Montebello) has introduced legislation that will amend state law to allow drivers who fatally strike certain animals to retroactively apply for a wildlife salvage permit and consume the meat. Drivers of vehicles (and opportunistic non-drivers who come across roadkill) would be able to take advantage of the new law, which requires applying for a wildlife salvage permit, at no cost, within 24 hours of the collision. Existing law allows only state and local agencies to remove roadkill. The bill’s text notes that each year “it is estimated that over 20,000 deer alone are hit by motor vehicles on California’s roadways” and that “this translates into hundreds of thousands of pounds of healthy meat that could be utilized to feed those in need.”

The bill applies to certain species – deer, elk, antelope and wild pig – and does not cover any animal protected by the California Endangered Species Act. If the animal is injured but not killed by the collision, the bill allows the salvager to dispatch the animal “in a safe, legal, and humane manner”.  If passed, the law would go into effect in 2021.

California is not a trailblazer in the area of roadkill legislation. Oregon and Washington both have laws that allow certain roadkill to be salvaged, as well as roughly 20 other states. Many states have tight restrictions on harvesting roadkill and limit the practice to licensed hunters. Oregon’s law, which allows salvaging of deer and elk, went into effect in January of this year. Free permits (with online applications) must be obtained within 24 hours of salvage. Oregon requires the antlers and head of any salvaged animal to be surrendered to an Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife office within five business days of taking the carcass so as not to incentive the practice of selling body parts (such as antlers) to collectors.

The state of Oregon, which offers a helpful link to the key regulations for salvaging roadkill, warns people who take advantage of the law that they “will consume the meat at their own risk”. The U.S. Department of Agriculture does not regulate roadkill.

Perhaps surprisingly, it has been reported that animal rights activists consider roadkill to be one of the most ethical and environmentally friendly meats. Advocates recognize that these animals were not purposefully raised for food and the meat would otherwise go to waste. California appears to be a leader in “wildlife-vehicle conflict” (WVC) which is studied and cataloged by the University of California—Davis. For those who are curious, the UC—Davis publicly-available website shows the “WVC hotspots” along California’s roadways.

PETA Animal “Shelter” Continues to Show High Rate of Euthanization

by John M. Simpson.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), an animal rights organization well-known for attention-grabbing tactics, often inserts itself into a wide variety of issues to promote its views.  In the past several days, PETA complained about performer Big Boi wearing a fur coat during the Super Bowl; complained that the character “Little Bo Peep” will be portrayed with a shepherd’s crook in the animated feature Toy Story 4; and insisted that wildlife art be displayed on President Trump’s Wall (if it is ever built).  Continue reading PETA Animal “Shelter” Continues to Show High Rate of Euthanization

British Dairy Farmers Also Caught in the Activist Cross-Hairs

By John M. Simpson.

Last week, we reported on an Australian animal rights group that published an interactive map providing the names, locations and other identifying details of farmers and other animal enterprises across Australia.  This week, an organization in the U.K. followed suit and published a similar map targeting dairy famers in England and Wales.  Continue reading British Dairy Farmers Also Caught in the Activist Cross-Hairs