Is Vinyl (PVC) Vegan? Should Vegans Buy Vinyl Products?

Yes, vinyl is vegan. Manufacturing vinyl does not use animal-derived materials and it is suitable for a vegan lifestyle. However, vinyl has significant sustainability issues that may give vegans cause to think twice.

What Is Vinyl?

Vinyl, aka polyvinyl chloride or PVC, is an extremely versatile plastic used in a wide range of products, including clothing, toys, construction, electronics, and – of course – vinyl records. It is relatively cheap to make, and, at first glance, can offer an attractive alternative to leather for anyone following a vegan lifestyle.

Polyvinyl Chloride was discovered in 1872 by accident by a German scientist called Eugene Baumann, but it wasn’t until 1926 that the B.F. Goodrich Company managed to develop and produce a usable PVC on a commercial scale. Its durability and easy production have led to an estimated 40 million tons of PVC being produced each year.

How Is Vinyl Made?

The process of producing vinyl involves complex chemical reactions using materials sourced from petroleum. More precisely, it is made through the polymerization of vinyl chloride. Ethylene and chlorine are combined, after which compounds are added to force a chain reaction. This causes the molecules to align in a particular way, allowing the resulting mixture to be processed into a strong, flexible, and durable material.

Is Vinyl Sustainable?

Most definitely not. The production of vinyl is highly unsustainable, involving the use of ethylene, which is extracted from crude oil, and chlorine, which is a poisonous gas. The processing of these chemicals creates huge amounts of toxic waste that can contaminate areas around the processing plants and cause suffering and death of humans, animals, and plant life. 

In addition, PVC releases toxic fumes (Volatile Organic Compounds, or VOCs) throughout its lifespan, and although it has the benefit of being recyclable, it is not biodegradable.

Verdict: Should Vegans Buy Vinyl?

Is vinyl vegan? Technically, the answer is yes. But when you consider the potential for countless numbers of animals, insects, fish, plants, and even humans that could be affected adversely by the process of producing vinyl, you may want to think twice.

Having said this, vinyl is pretty difficult to avoid, as it is so widely used – although more ethical and sustainable alternatives are thankfully becoming available. Overall, vinyl leather alternatives are still better than leather (for the environment – clearly better for the animal in question!), since the tanning process involves the use of formaldehyde, chromium, and dyes.

As with many of the challenges of a vegan lifestyle, choosing to use or not use vinyl will be a personal, and potentially difficult, choice. Wherever possible and practical, try to seek a better alternative. The more support these products receive, the more widely they will become available, which will be better for all of us.