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The Ultimate Guide to Eco-Friendly Purses: Biodegradable, Sustainable, & Vegan Options

Did you know just because something is vegan, doesn't mean it's eco-friendly or sustainable?

In recent years, many have chosen to make the admirable switch from real leather to synthetic and vegan leather in a bid to choose a more cruelty-free lifestyle.

While admirable, most synthetic vegan leather is made from petroleum-based plastics, most commonly: polyurethane (PU) or polyvinyl chloride (vinyl or PVC). Like all plastics, PU and PVC are derived from petroleum or natural gas.

If you're reading this blog, you're likely trying to make your life more sustainable and eco-friendly, including the clothes you wear and the bags you carry. In this article, I'd like to present you with some options to reduce your plastic use when purse shopping.

As with all shopping, the key to living more sustainably is to follow the three tenants:

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle or Upcycle.

The first question to ask is: "Do I really need another purse?" Often, one or two purses can be multi-functional and used for a multitude of occasions. Reducing our purse collection (although it may be difficult at first) may be the best option when it comes to reducing our environmental impact.

The next step in the process is to reuse. This could mean choosing to use a purse from a friend or family member instead of purchasing a brand-new one. Don't neglect the power of closet sister does this all the time. I often wake up and see her adorned in one of my clothing items. While annoying, it's definitely more eco-friendly than buying something that's brand-new.

Reusing could also mean choosing to purchase from thrift and second-hand stores. You will be amazed at some of the high-quality items you may discover while thrift shopping. Even better, these days there are multiple online thrift stores that allow you to shop without leaving the comfort of your home. Sites like ThredUp, Poshmark, and OfferUp would be some places I recommend starting your search for gently used items.

Finally, Recycle: you may be thinking I'm suggesting that you create a new purse using materials you have lying around the house, and while that would be amazing...I understand that it is not feasible for the vast majority of busy individuals.

However, you can purchase purses made from recycled materials such as tires and water bottles. While these products are still ultimately made from plastic materials, their creators are serving an environmentally friendly purpose by reusing these non-biodegradable materials that would otherwise end up in a landfill or our ocean.

When shopping for a new vegan purse, here are some vegan leather materials to seek: apple, cork, jute, bamboo, and cacti. Do your very best to avoid vegan leather purses made from plastic materials such as polyurethane and polyvinyl chloride.

If you must buy real leather in order to avoid plastic, seek leather from companies that choose to reuse the waste products of meat production, and who tan their leather in less toxic processes.

Below is a list of vegan leather companies that could guide you as you begin your search:

All of the products from this company are handcrafted from the bark of the cork oak tree. Harvesting the bark helps the tree to grow and live longer. Eve Cork harvests the cork oak tree every 9-10 years, which helps the tree to grow and live longer. As the trees grow and go through harvest, they filter more carbon dioxide than if left untouched, resulting in cleaner air for everyone.

Their products are certainly on the more expensive side but they are sustainably sourced and built to last. If you are interested in buying and keeping your purses and wallets for a considerable amount of time, this woman-owned company has products that could be worth the investment.

Desserto makes its leather products from organically grown cacti that are dried naturally in the sun, utilizing a more natural and eco-friendly process. They only cut the mature leaves of the nopal plant without damaging the plant itself, enabling repeat harvest every 6-8 months from the same plants. Cacti are a natural carbon sink, so growing the plants themselves is an ecologically friendly endeavor.

Their products are lined with recycled polyester and cotton - it's therefore not a completely biodegradable product. It does however stand apart from its fully plastic colleagues. It's not perfect, but it's a step in the right direction. You can get Desserto cacti leather from products sold by a handful of manufacturers, one of which is Fossil.

This company makes purses and wallets that are made from upcycled cotton and cement. They also support fair-trade and support companies that seek to end human trafficking in Cambodia.

They offer a variety of very affordable products ranging from crossbody bags to day bags and messenger bags with unique prints and designs. When you shop with this company you can feel good about the fact that you are choosing recycled and upcycled materials while supporting fair trade practices.

Here's another company that uses sustainable cork and linen materials to produce a range of well-made and durable purses that range from totes, to crossbody bags and clutches.

This company is also woman-owned and all their products are handmade in small batches. As such, the prices are definitely higher than your average department store purse, however, each product is uniquely crafted and could be a worthy investment for a purse that will last a very long time and is mostly biodegradable.

Now, if you would really like to splurge, this is the company for you. Their products are several hundred dollars so it's catering to a consumer that seeks more luxury products.

This company makes high-end leather products that are made from sustainably-sourced bamboo. Their products are mostly biodegradable and due to their bamboo material, are much lighter than traditional leather products. While the exterior is made of bamboo leather, the interior is lined with microfiber cloth derived from recycled plastic. So while you won't escape plastic completely with this product, you will reduce your plastic use.

In Conclusion

Remember, just because a purse is marketed as vegan, doesn't mean it's sustainable or eco-friendly. Most likely it's made from a plastic that is non-recyclable and non-biodegradable.

Although there are not too many affordable options currently available, have no fear. Your wallet makes a difference with each purchase. Thrift first, and when you cannot, choose sustainably-made purses. Remember, look for purses made from materials such as cotton, linen, cork, cacti, apple core, and bamboo. As we increase the demand for purses made from truly biodegradable materials, the demand will invariably increase.

Choosing non-toxic and sustainable personal products helps you stay safe, while also reducing the massive amounts of pollution that the beauty industry inflicts on the planet every day.

Remember, the goal is not perfection, just little changes that will later snowball into big changes. Do the very best that you can, whenever you can, and encourage others to do the same; that's how we make positive changes for our bodies and for our planet.

Please leave a comment below if you have any other tips or questions and don't forget to subscribe for more posts on sustainability, travel, and plant-based cooking!


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