On everyone's lips and controversially discussed, sustainability, climate change - what else can I consume? Nowadays it is more important than ever to look closely at where our products come from and how they are produced. In the dog community there is a strong trend towards vegan leather alternatives in addition to alternative sources of protein in food. BioThane® is probably one of the most popular imitation leathers on the market. It is inexpensive, versatile and comes in every imaginable color. But where it says organic on it, there is not necessarily organic in it. In this article we would like to show you a transparent comparison of the materials leather and BioThane®. First of all, we would like to point out that everyone has to decide for himself/herself which material or product fits best in your everyday life. Because both have not only clear disadvantages but also advantages.
I regularly receive inquiries whether we would like to expand our range of materials to include vegan variants, or whether an explicit listing of BioThane® is being planned. Especially with regard to our newest product, the round leather tow line, this is always a justified question, especially with regard to the durability of the product. Nevertheless, the same applies to the purchase of dog accessories. Just because a product name includes the term Bio does not mean that Bio is also in it.
Welcome to America would be the perfect transition, as this is where the universally popular material with the misleading name BioThane® is produced. Which in turn means for us Europeans that, in addition to the production, which I will discuss in a moment, it has come a long way before it reaches us. Whoever, like me, takes care to consume as regionally or at least continentally as possible, could find that a bit annoying.
Often you read at suppliers of accessories made of this material, that it is biodegradable, a mixture of renewable raw materials. That sounds almost too good to be true! Unfortunately, this will be confirmed on closer research! On the side of the manufacturer it says clearly:
BioThane® is the brand name of all coated webbing products made by BioThane Coated Webbing Corp. It's basically a polyester webbing with a TPU or PVC coating that makes it more durable, waterproof, easy to clean and weldable. 
In plain language this means nothing else but, Poly, Poly, Poly. No information about the manufacturing process or the ingredients can be found. Organic is therefore only in the product and manufacturer name. So far so good, but what are PVC and TPU anyway, you might ask?
PVC(polyvinyl chloride) is a thermoplastic polymer and is one of the most important polymers for the production of plastic. Whether hard or soft, it always contains plasticizers to keep the material permanently elastic. Plasticizers are always released into the environment, which means that even after the product may end up in the garbage, the harmful substances are released into our groundwater.
TPU(Thermoplastic Polyurethane) is a synthetic resin or plastic that emits toxic gases during the manufacturing process.
If you would like to know more about plasticizers, I have provided a link to the Umwelt Bundesamt as well as to the Verbraucherzentrale, whose articles contain further interesting links on the subject.
So plastics are an end product, of fossil origin, and therefore not biodegradable. During the production of plastics of any kind highly toxic gases are released, because in the end these are chemical processes and depending on the case they leave behind possibly toxic by-products.
Even bioplastics do not always consist exclusively of compostable materials. Some of them do not yet manage without a polymer made of petroleum as a binding agent. About the composition and handling of bioplastics I have provided you here a link.
Advantages of BioThane®
Disadvantages of BioThane®
-Longevity= several 100 years until decomposition= endangering the flora and fauna
-Softener = Harmful to health
-Environmental impact during production
-far transport route
There is no question that tow lines made of BioThane® are unbeatable in their handling and care. However, you should be aware that pulling the line behind you creates friction and that microplastics and softeners are released into the environment during use. Not to mention the plasticizers that enter the wearer's body through skin contact. Unlike conventional towing lines made of e.g. nylon, BioThane® does not tear as easily, but depending on the load and damage, it may also lose its protective sheathing due to injury. In this case, small plastic pieces are scattered somewhere in a peaceful forest. Not a very nice idea.
leather and where it comes from
Against all misconception, however, cattle, for example, are not bred for their skin, from which the leather is then extracted. Unlike fur, leather is almost always a by-product of the meat industry. It can hardly be denied that factory farming is one of the greatest ethical and ecological mistakes of mankind. Nevertheless, at least for me, the positive properties of leather as a material have a clear advantage if it is vegetable tanned. Short transport routes for the hides also means that they do not have to be preserved in a highly stressful way in order to arrive intact at the tannery as raw material, as would be the case if the hides had to be imported from South America. The vegetable tanning of animal skins is one of the oldest cultural techniques of mankind. Until industrialisation, hides and skins were tanned using herbs, roots and barks. Today there are fewer and fewer companies that still tan traditionally and environmentally friendly, but the awareness of ecological alternatives is also growing in industry.
Tanning processes using heavy metals, which in turn pollute the environment as waste water, are predominantly widespread. For this reason it is important to buy leather from Europe and from European companies that have to be inspected and comply with EU directives and to support traditional companies that also use vegetable tanning.
If you buy leather articles from Asia or South America, and they are also processed there, there is a high probability that these companies do not adhere to guidelines and measures for the protection of nature. Thus we as consumers remain part of the problem of environmental disasters in countries that are exploited because of their resources and low controls.
Advantages of leather towing lines
-by-product of the meat industry
-no toxic substances, no health risk, no environmental pollution during tanning with chemicals in traditional, vegetable tanning
-regionally/continentally available= short transport routes
-traditional craftsmanship is supported
Disadvantages of leather towing lines
-depending on exposure, harder to clean
-needs some care
-drying time with much contact with water
-Loses elasticity with insufficient care
-friction tugs at durability
I could go on and on about other advantages and characteristics of leather, but the focus here should be on the comparison of the materials in relation to the training tool drag line.
The leather towing line behaves similar to conventional polypropylene or nylon towing lines. However, the leather is not as difficult to clean as these and does not become as incredibly heavy when wet. Nevertheless the elasticity can be compared. If the line is subjected to too much punctual stress, it may tear, for example if it gets caught on a sharp object. But unlike PPP and nylon, there is not a piece of plastic fabric lying around somewhere for several hundred years, but a piece of leather that turns back to earth. I, personally, can rather live with having to replace and recycle my leash at some point than to know that it will outlast me and many generations to come without changing its shape.
Impressed by the positive properties, misled by the name of the manufacturer and erroneous information from the producers of dog accessories, I myself bought 2 BioThane® towing lines for my dogs years ago. And every time I use them, I do so with a bad feeling. I, who actually always looks carefully at the label, gives plastic a wide berth if it can be avoided. But my motto is, as long as it is still usable, I use it too. Because with premature disposal I only contribute to the disposable mentality and would be part of the problem.
Which material is best suited for you in the end depends on the area of application. If you choose the most durable and uncomplicated variant of the possibilities that are currently available on the market, I think it is important, as with all the things we use, to use the tow line, leash, collar ... until it can no longer serve its purpose. Our resources are finite. But we control how much we use them with appreciation. Not only because we directly burden the environment through the manufacturing process of products, but also through their use and disposal. Germany, for example, still sells plastic waste abroad. There it is partly recycled and what cannot be profitably recycled is resold or simply "disposed of". In this way our waste also ends up in tropical countries and in the ocean . Just because your tow line doesn't look like new anymore doesn't mean you need a new one. It is a training tool, a safety tool for your dog. No more, no less. Vegan alternatives to leather are still an exciting topic that I am not closed to. Almost every year new leather imitations are made from vegetable fibres or alternative tanning methods are developed. For me, only alternatives made of plastic are not alternatives, even if this statement has to be considered in a differentiated way depending on the product and the ecological balance. But that would go too far at this point.
Change begins on a small scale. We must first develop an awareness of many things that are taken for granted in everyday life, but are perhaps questionable. And this happens at a different pace for everyone. Nobody is error-free, nobody does everything perfectly at the first attempt. But I think with the will to change something, we can already achieve a lot.
Interesting links about plastics and the environment:
WWF: All about plastic in our oceans and how you can avoid plastic in everyday life
Federal Environment Agency: What are plasticizers?
Federal Environment Agency: Everything about bioplastics, composition, disposal, etc.
Consumer advice centre: Everything about plastics and health
This article contains my personal opinion and values that I and my label stand for. These would be like appreciation and added value in the form of natural materials whose origin is controlled as much as possible, as well as appreciation of traditional craftsmanship and passing on knowledge.
*There is no right and wrong in this sense, in the end it is always a question of consistent action with regard to one's own ideals.
*The following links are sources for which pinesandbones does not take any responsibility.