Vegan use of plastics

You would think that a Vegan lifestyle would promote a return to nature, an all-natural lifestyle, so it might come as quite a shock that this is actually very far from the truth.

Veganism is a modern ideology with little historical precedents in human societies. A modern-day vegan generally does not expect to go back to a primitive, subsistence lifestyle, but rather expects to be able to enjoy all of the trappings of modern life. These trappings are often based on the multiple and varied use of animal products, and in order to satisfy this “lifestyle right” – to not have to do without – many artificially produced products have to be made. In short, a modern Vegan lifestyle is a heavy promoter of oil-based, synthetic, products, over “organic” or “natural” products.

During the same period of time that Vegan ideologies have emerged, we have seen a growing awareness and development of practise we can loosely call “organic”, or ethical farming. We have seen a growing and diverse range of products that are produced with these standards. The oil industry is notable for advocating positions and funding organisations that both dispute and block action on anthropogenic climate change, funding organisations that seek for less environmental regulation and protections. The oil industry in general is not generally associated with groups or with politics that seek for broader environmental rather than industrial values. It is fair comment to say that the oil industry generally stands opposed to environmental groups, and Vegan advocates are more likely to be found within the latter than the former.

So: why do Vegans avidly and unreservedly promote an ongoing, expanding and continuing use of oil-based products?

How so?

Leather has a broad range of uses in modern society, from shoes, to clothing, to upholstery, bags and other accessories, etc. Faux leather is the only possibility for a vegan, it is made from PVC and other oil-based fabrics.

Other synthetic materials that substitute for natural alternatives are fabrics used for carpets, for upholstery, for cold-weather clothing, as these are all based on animal products (wool amongst others). For a vegan that means that artificial alternatives have to be used; in general oil-based products. Plastics.

Given how little plastic has been effectively recycled (only about 5% of what we use), how much our use of it has grown over these last decades, and how much of it is problematic in how it is disposed, how much ends in the sea and is the cause of substantial damage to marine life, one has to question the wisdom of this extensive promotion of plastics as an alternative to bio-degradable, natural products.

But what alternative do they have? Well, quite simple really: if it is not a natural, bio-degradable product do not use it. Don’t want to use silk, then don’t use a nylon alternative, go without. Don’t want that leather bag? Then go without. Don’t want a down jacket, then don’t go skiing. But, of course, vegans want the modern lifestyle, feel entitled to have this lifestyle, with all its accoutrements, which of course is why we see a growing plethora of “vegan alternatives”, not only with these lifestyle products, but even hamburgers and other foods of modern life. We see a plethora of emerging companies, of products springing up that pride themselves on using oil-based, plastics substitutes, promoting their vegan credentials. For the consumer, the implied choice with these products is that this is somehow a “better” a “more ethical” alternative. Really, to what?

Now… just to be clear, this is not to suggest that the oil industry is “all bad”, that plastics and our growing use of them is not to be appreciated: where would our computers, our TVs, our smart-phones, medical equipment, etc, etc, be without these products? But, as we have realised the true cost of these products on our environment, there are growing efforts to not only limit our use of them, but to find alternatives (think of the electric car when it comes to fuel, the banning of plastic bags, etc). These efforts have also coincided with attempts to better understand the processes around recycling plastics, despite the fact that plastic’s recyclability is not good and of limited utility. But an ongoing and growing effort is underway to find appropriate uses for plastic and to discourage, or even ban, inappropriate uses.

The key point here is that the general, environmentally responsible action is to seek and use alternatives for synthetic materials, not to promote their use, or the lifestyles that encourage their growth.

Given the basic “high moral” ground that Vegans adopt, why advocate an expanded use of plastics? How can this be portrayed as an ethical, innovative, sustainable, “Vegan safe”, alternative? Is it not more responsible to not advocate these alternatives even at the cost of lifestyle choices? It is after all, exactly what is advocated by Vegans to the rest of us when it comes to the use of animal products: don’t use them.

Return to: Veganism, An Unnatural Ideology

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