This Is Plastics: Plastics Protect Wildlife and Support Conservation Goals


Plastics Protect Wildlife and Support Conservation Goals

Plastics play a critical role in conservation efforts, and have kept wildlife safe for decades.


In addition to plastics benefitting consumers by making products more affordable and more durable, they are also vital to wildlife preservation and keeping animals safe. Increasingly, industries have replaced precious animal products with plastic parts in the goods that we use every day. In addition to demonstrated benefits in the music industry, plastics play a critical role in both fashion and sports by replacing animal products and shifting consumer preferences in ways that better protect wildlife and decrease practices based on animal cruelty.

Plastics Revolutionized the Fashion Industry and Saved Animals from Extinction

In the early 1900s, mink, chinchilla, sable and rabbit furs became high-class fashion must haves. But in the decades since, these products have been criticized for the inhumane treatment and suffering of animals. One fur coat can require up to 60 mink or 200 chinchilla skins to produce. Meanwhile, synthetic fur made from plastic fibers achieves the same designer look without harming any animals. The unique production process to create plastic fibers allows synthetic fur to be dyed any color and customized to any thickness. Machine washable synthetic fur is also more affordable and more durable than animal fur, which requires consistent upkeep and climate-controlled storage.

The many benefits that plastics provide have tipped demand away from animal-based products in favor of more sustainable, humane alternatives. Major brands including Versace and Gucci are now fur-free, and in 2020, Stella McCartney launched a collection of Koba faux fur, made with a recycled polyester blend.

Plastics also protects animals from another hallmark of high fashion: silk. Silk is lauded as a luxurious, beautiful and durable fabric, but it takes over 3,000 silkworm cocoons to make just one yard of fabric. Polyester silk is significantly more affordable, just one-tenth the cost of natural silk, requires less maintenance and is machine washable, saving on special washing chemicals and processes.

Even with accessories, plastics are an animal-friendly alternative. The ever-popular tortoiseshell design used frequently on glasses frames claims its name from the tortoise and turtle shells originally used to create these products. Initial calls for a ban on the material in the early 1900s to save endangered tortoises were ignored due to the pattern’s widespread popularity. However, the development of a more durable, affordable and non-allergenic plastic substitute in the mid-20th century allowed for mass production of “tortoiseshell” designs without harming actual tortoises, and a worldwide ban on natural tortoiseshell was announced soon after in the 1970s. The widespread availability of synthetic plastic tortoiseshell protects tortoises while satisfying consumer preferences, significantly reducing overhunting pressures.

Plastics Create Safer Sports Gear Without Relying on Animal Products

While one might think of fur coats as luxury items, many everyday items used to use animal products. In the 1890s, football helmets were made using leather and looked nothing like the durable plastic football helmets of today. The leather caps had limited padding and no face mask, which provided few safety benefits, and required several cow hides for production. The introduction of plastic helmets in 1939 reduced the sport’s dependency on animal products and increased player safety with a sturdier, durable and more protective plastic design. Today, plastic helmets are required in the National Football League and leather helmets are, thankfully, a thing of the past.

Soccer has also benefited from the introduction of plastics. Game balls, originally made from cow hides, easily degraded, and became waterlogged, which increased the risk of injury from kicking or heading heavier balls. Soccer balls made with synthetic leather and polyester are more durable and are water resistant, making balls lighter and safer to play with. Although professional baseball and football still rely primarily on cowhide for their game balls, synthetic leather made from plastics is becoming increasingly popular and could provide a future solution for more durable and higher performance replacements.

Plastics Creates More Sustainable Production Systems

Plastic alternatives protect wildlife by supporting changing consumer preferences, but they also benefit the environment by decreasing the unsustainable sourcing methods many animal products utilize. For instance, “fur farms” that raise minks, chinchillas, and other preferred animals require significant resources to feed and house the animals until they are ready for harvesting. One mink coat, for example, is estimated to require over three tons of feed to produce, and a life cycle assessment found that natural mink coats have over four times the carbon emissions of synthetic plastic alternatives. By replacing animal fur with plastic alternatives, we can limit negative impacts on animals and the environment.

Plastics play a similar role in limiting the environmental impact of silk production. Silkworms live and feed on mulberry trees, but one tree only has enough foliage for 100 silkworms, so producing a single yard of fabric requires approximately 300 trees. The land, water, fertilizer and energy required to raise mulberry groves at the scale necessary for commercial sale silk presents significant environmental challenges that synthetic alternatives simply don’t have. According to the Sustainable Apparel Coalition’s Higg Index, silk production uses more fresh water and emits more greenhouse gases than any other textile, including polyester silk and other plastic-based alternatives.

Across industries, plastics provide consumers with a suite of benefits as a durable, safe, and more affordable material woven into every facet of their everyday lives. At the same time, plastics preserve and protect animal life by decreasing wildlife product demand and boosting conservation efforts. Plastics’ popularity has pushed consumer preferences to adopt animal protection policies and save endangered species. Even commercially available animal products, like animal fur, have seen declining demand in favor of synthetic plastic alternatives. As consumer preferences continue to call for environmentally conscious options, demand for plastics products in place of animal products will only increase.

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