It’s natural, and it’s biodegradable. But is fur eco friendly? We take a genuinely objective look at both sides of the debate
By Jody McCutcheon
“Fur is an ecological nightmare. The fur industry has been identified as a major polluter by government agencies around the world.”
“Real fur garments are much less polluting to manufacture than synthetic faux furs, which are made with some of the most toxic chemicals known…”
Thus goes the back-and-forth between pro-and anti-fur camps, about which is more eco friendly, fur or faux. The above quotes also hint at an answer: trick question.
The first, unsurprisingly, belongs to Ingrid Newkirk, president and co-founder of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). They’re famous for their paint-throwing stunts at fashion weeks and “I’d rather go naked than wear fur” campaigns.
The second quote is more a defence disguised as attack. Interestingly, it comes not from the fur industry, per se, but from IWMC World Conservation Trust President, Eugene Lapointe. Does the IWMC have a vested interest in fur, or is Mr Lapointe simply stating what the IWMC believes to be true? Sometimes it’s tough to tease fact from rhetoric.
The Basics On Faux vs Real Fur
So…is fur eco friendly? Here’s what we know.
*Fur is a renewable resource. Faux fur isn’t. It’s petroleum-based, with an estimated gallon of oil used for every three jackets made.
*Fur farms recycle. Farmed mink, for example, consume human food waste and meat-processing byproducts. Fur itself, as a material, is more or less biodegradable. As any fur-owner knows, without proper care, it soon disintegrates. Faux fur, however, will clog landfills for centuries to come unless it’s somehow recycled or upcycled.
Faux fur is, obviously, more animal-friendly. Unless it secretly contains dog, cat or raccoon hair, which occurs more than one might think, according to CNN.
Faux-fur production is also ultimately more energy-efficient. It uses as little as one-fifteenth the energy required for farmed-fur production.
But there is a lot more to consider from both sides before we can make a conclusion.
Toxic Chemical Soups
The processing of fur excretes toxic chemical soups that harm our water, air and soil. For example, fur-farm animal waste can seep into local waterways. A 2011 study by Dutch independent researchers CE Delft calls fur production worse than textile production, in terms of environmental degradation.
Carcinogens like chromium and formaldehyde, employed in the dressing and dyeing processes, compromise fur’s biodegradability and ecological stability. In fact, according to British fashion-ethics journalist Lucy Siegle, “the industrial pollution projection system rates fur-dressing as one of the five worst industries for toxic metal pollution to the land in the world.”
That said, many companies such as SAGA and the Gucci Group (now called Kering) are insisting that all their furs are vegetable dyed and tanned with traditional, non-toxic methods. Perhaps to try to reverse the public’s distaste for fur, The Fur Council of Canada has launched a “Fur is Green” campaign. It claims that fur is “durable, recyclable, and and biodegradable”, and that trapping certain wild animals helps native communities preserve their traditions and earn an income.
These initiatives many be ecological in their own ways. But unless a fur is 100% vegetable tanned and dyed, the answer to ‘is fur eco friendly’ will have to be NO. And just because native communities have been doing something for centuries doesn’t mean it’s ok and should be promoted.
How Bad Faux Fur For The Planet?
As for faux, In Touch magazine’s Ruth Rosselson stated, “More than 50% of (the UK)’s emissions into our air of the poisonous ‘greenhouse’ gas nitrous oxide comes from nylon production.” And indeed, that is the basis for some faux fur coats.
However, increasing numbers of companies are making eco-friendly fake furs from wool, alpaca and other natural animal fibres. No harm comes to the animal at all, and the fibres need no tanning and can be vegetable dyed. Even better news is that more and more eco-friendly faux furs are being designed each year from things like recycled plastic bottles or upcyled fabrics. And yes, I would consider these to be eco friendly faux furs.
Some claim that with each machine wash, a faux fur coat releases up to 1900 microplastic particles into the water. These particles go into the food chain, ultimately harming all animals, including humans. I’d agree that microplastics are a terrible thing. But the truth is: how often do you wash your winter coat? I mean, honestly. And of course, you can always buy a Guppy bag or washing machine filter to capture those particles.
So, Is Fur Eco Friendly?
So, is fur eco friendly? The fact is, it’s a bit of a quagmire.
Vegan animal lovers will say there is simply no excuse for wearing fur because it tortures animals. Fair enough, it undoubtedly does. Animals raised for fur often spend their entire lives in small cages before being electrocuted to death. Who wants to support such an industry? Plus, we’ve proven here that unless fur is vegetable dyed and tanned, it’s just as bad for the planet as any synthetic.
But what about vintage fur? There are millions of coats in great condition from decades ago, often passed down from generation to generation. Clearly, throwing these furs away would be wasteful, to say the least. If the animal has been long dead, surely it’s best to maximise the product that resulted from the sacrifice of its life? Some would say no, because this sends a signal that wearing all fur is fine. And that signal paves the way for a stronger modern fur market.
Yet, if you must wear fur, the eco-gentlest choice is probably to buy vintage. But know this: many will look down on you for sporting cruel, non-eco-friendly fashion. There can be little doubt that the trend is now for many brands to go fur free, mainly due to public pressure.
And unless you live in deepest Siberia, is it really worth wearing an animal’s skin (or actually, several: as many as 60 minks are killed for one coat), just so you can look nice this winter?
Given that there are so many more conscious faux fur companies around today, using recycled and even biodegradable materials for their coats, there’s really no debate. Eco-friendly faux fur is the way to go.
2nd image: Fendi