The processing and dyeing of any clothing material must be carefully regulated to protect the environment. Again, nothing is 100% “green”. Fur tanning (“dressing”) and coloring, however, are relatively benign, as they must be, to preserve fur hairs and follicles. (By contrast, in leather tanning the hair is intentionally removed from the hide.)
The main chemicals used to “dress” fur pelts are table salt, water, alum salts, soda ash, sawdust, cornstarch, lanolin and other natural ingredients. Small quantities of formaldehyde can be used to protect fur follicles during dressing or dyeing, and gentle acids (e.g., acetic acid, which is vinegar) activate the tanning process, but local environmental protection controls ensure that there are no harmful effluents. Excess fats are skimmed and even PH levels must be neutralized before wastewater is released. And because furs are available in an extraordinary range of natural colours, only a small proportion are dyed.
By contrast, up to one gallon of petroleum – a non-renewable resource – is needed to produce three synthetic jackets. The production of synthetic fibers also involves chemical reactions at high temperatures, producing potentially harmful substances.
According to R.S. Blackburn (Biodegradable and Sustainable Fibers, pg xv): “The main problems with synthetic polymers are that they are non-degradable and non-renewable… Oil and petroleum are non-renewable (non-sustainable) resources and at the current rate of consumption, these fossil fuels are only expected to last for another 50-60 years… An even more important problem with the use of fossil energy is the huge translocation of carbon from the ground into the atmosphere accompanied by emissions of sulphur and nitrogen oxides as well as all kinds of hydrocarbons, and heavy metals. Fossil fuels are also the dominant global source of anthropogenic greenhouse gases (GHG)’’