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Why are many “sustainable” products not vegan?

At Not to Die For* we have a policy of “vegan first” when it comes to selecting the products that we include in our marketplace. Part of the reason why we had to come up with that policy in the first place is due to many “zero waste” or “sustainable” products. This might seem contradictory, but to make these products easier to biodegrade, companies sometimes use animal ingredients; meaning not all products that claim to be “sustainable” are necessarily vegan

Animal products are never sustainable

If you know anything about veganism, even on the surface level, you probably heard about the fact that breeding and growing animals to feed humans is extremely damaging to the environment. To give you perspective, a typical pig factory generates the same amount of raw waste as a city of 12,000 people. The greenhouse gases created by cattle ranching are a key player in the deterioration of the ozone layer. 

It goes even further than just cattle: the fishing industry is the biggest contributor to plastic waste in the ocean. Contrary to what is usually communicated by mainstream media and brands who use sustainability as a marketing tactic, 50% of ocean plastic is fishing nets, not straws. You can watch the documentary Seaspiracy (available on Netflix) for more facts about the impact of the fishing industry on our environment. 

“Sustainability” sells, but how environmentally friendly are brands?

Right now being eco-friendly is in vogue, which should be a very positive thing, right? As a society, we’re realizing that our actions have consequences! The problem comes when corporations start taking advantage of people’s good intentions and lack of knowledge to sell their products. 

The term “greenwashing” was coined by environmentalist Jay Westerveld in 1986, but it’s never been more relevant than right now. What is greenwashing? It’s when you make people believe that your company is doing more to protect the environment than it really is??. Companies that “greenwash” have profit in mind and only pay attention to environmentalism when it’s convenient or demanded.

According to a 2015 poll, 66% of people are willing to pay more for eco-friendly products and 50% of purchasing decisions are influenced by sustainability features. By claiming that they are “greener”, companies can retain environmentally conscious customers without actually changing their practices. 

A big way companies do this is by basically diverting people’s attention from the bigger issues their products have. They claim to have recyclable packaging and yet have ingredients that are harmful to the environment (it’s also good to keep in mind that most plastic packaging isn’t fully recyclable). They can also have vague claims that can’t be backed up, irrelevant claims (like saying they are “CFC-free” when CFC gases are banned by law), or even making up certifications —which we’ve talked about in our post about cruelty-free and vegan products

But… what does “sustainable” mean? 

“Sustainability” is a very broad term. It means meeting our own needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. It can be interpreted in many different ways, and it’s the reason why there’s no regulation about what can or can’t be labeled as sustainable. This means that animal products —which are unethical and contribute to the deterioration of the environment— can be seen as more eco-friendly because they are biodegradable. 

Here are some examples of zero-waste products that use animal products for this purpose: 

  • Using bamboo toothbrushes with bristles made out of pig hair (to replace nylon bristles). For a 100% vegan yet sustainable option, use this one instead
  • Wearing silk and wool clothes instead of synthetic fabrics. Fortunately, there are great non-animal derived eco-friendly alternatives such as cotton, plant-based leathers, etc.
  • Any use of gelatin in shampoos and other cosmetic products. – Find your vegan & cruelty-free ones here.
  • Using beeswax wrapping instead of aluminum. – There are vegan alternatives available that are both sustainable and cruelty-free.

Unfortunately, this means that sometimes we have to do the selection work ourselves. There are many things that you can consider when you’re looking to shop sustainably: 

  • Does it contain animal products? 
  • Where are the materials sourced from? 
  • Does the company have any eco certifications? 
  • What are the factory conditions and benefits for the workers? 
  • How far away from me was it made? 
  • What’s the company’s mission? Does it have any commitments for the future? 

Find shops you can trust!

There are also online stores (like Ntdf*) that curate products so you don’t have to go through all that hassle. It’s very important to find vendors that you can trust and who put their ethics over selling out to corporations. Learn more about our selection of vegan lifestyle products by visiting our shop

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