Cruel vs crueler: faux fur not as ecofriendly as it seems

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By Andrew Bucko, Co-Opinion Editor

Fur’s role in the fashion industry is on a swift decline. Michael Kors, Gucci and Versace’s commitments to phase out the fabric are just ripples in the outgoing tide of fur usage. Once the premier fabric of the world’s elite, the driving force behind American exploration and the down jacket before the down jacket, the crusade against fur is more active than ever before. Finally, it seems, PETA’s infamous “flour bombings” of celebrities like Kim Kardashian have resonated with consumers and brands alike. 

Cue the rise of faux fur, a seemingly innocent alternative. This synthetic twin is cheaper to produce and is widely available to the masses. No animals were harmed in the making of your H&M coat. But brace for the environment’s suffering for centuries to come. 

Faux fur contains a cocktail of petrochemicals, plastics and polymers; all of which can take 1,000 years to return to the earth. Real fur can biodegrade in six months.  

Sure, purchasing a faux product today will spare the life of a mink or fox. Meanwhile, 8.7 million species of animals will live beside that product for a millennium. 

Just why is faux fur so bad? Beyond decomposing at a snail’s pace, production of bootleg pelts leaves a huge carbon footprint. Between the mining of raw materials, emissions produced from molten plastic, and runoff from dye, faux fur is more problematic for mother nature. Not to mention that faux fur forms plastic microbeads, which accumulate to toxic levels in saltwater fish. Sushi, anyone? 

While fur is demonized for its role in animal killing, most furs available to consumers come from creatures that face no risk of dwindling populations.   

Farmed minks and robust (and often invasive) populations of foxes, rabbits and coyotes are the primary sources of global fur consumption. Minks are the most polluting of the pack, as they rely on an all meat diet that produces greenhouse gas emissions. Rabbits, on the other hand, are herbivores and don’t need to be raised in captivity. Australia alone has 200 million invasive rabbits with a 17:1 ratio of rabbits to Aussies. As for foxes and coyotes, they are primarily harvested from the wild (meaning a neutral carbon footprint). 

Still disturbed by the thought of killing an adorable creature for frivolous protection from the cold? Used furs are widely available in consignment stores. Second-hand fur promotes a cruelty- and pollution-free alternative to synthetic fibers, all while maintaining a timeless look.  

Luckily, faux fur is slowly evolving to be sustainable. Designer Stella McCartney recently introduced a fur dupe made with 37 percent plant matter and recyclable polyester. How much do these eco-friendly furs cost, you may wonder? An entry-level coat of hers will run you $1000+, and it’s a coat still containing plastic polymers. Baby steps, baby steps.