Monday, June 15, 2015

Is a Vegan Tesla even Possible?

Don Loepp of PlasticsNews raised the question last week of whether PVC is vegan or not. The issue came about regarding the all-electric Tesla cars. Apparently they don't offer a non-leather interior for vegans.
"A Bloomberg report from Tesla’s annual share meeting noted how one buyer, Mark Peters, had to go through “extreme measures” to get a Tesla sedan not only without leather seats but without any leather trim at all for his vegan wife Elizabeth Peters."
Don suggested PVC as an alternative, but unfortunately, that likely won't be a viable option either. PVC usually has some stearate salt in it as a lubricant and the most common source of stearic acid to make that salt is animal fat.

The use of stearates goes far beyond PVC. They can be an additive to polyethylene, polyproplylene and a variety of styrenic polymers, mostly as lubricants, but also as acid scavengers to help with thermal stability. This is not just a concern for vegans, but others with restricted diets. That most stearic acid is made from a variety of animals (including pigs) causes concern for those wishing to keep a Kosher diet since many food packaging films have stearates as lubricants. Kosher stearic acid is available, but I don't know of any plastics producer/compounder that uses it.

But back to the Tesla discussion, I find it quite ironic that someone buying a Tesla, presumably because they are concerned about lessening their environmental impact, would prefer non-sustainable petroleum-based plastics to be part of the car.

Previous Years

June 15, 2011 - Sustainability

June 15, 2007 - PVA - Err, is that alcohol or acetate?


Anonymous said...

It's not about the reality of whether or not it's environmentally sound, it's about the image that it projects and whether people buy into that image so they too can be part of the "club."

John said...

A very good way to put it.

Anonymous said...

I've actually thought about these things as someone who was thinking about buying an electric car in the future and seeing most of the cars. I can't afford to buy any car at the moment but maybe someday. I appreciate you pointing out the presence of animal fats in PVC. It is already hard to avoid using animals bodies 100% but I know we can come up with more compassionate options. We all do our best at any point to support what we believe in.

I guess my question for you is:

How is supporting animal agriculture, the leading generator of greenhouse gases, a sustainable option? (UN report: Leather is generally from cows, the least "environmentally friendly" raised animals by far.

Buying the animals' skins gives these institutions money. The animal ag lobby is already one of the strongest in the country, why should I give them more money and support? Stearic acid is also richly available non-animal based sources like cocoa and shea butter and is used in veg*n vitamins and such. Not that that would necessarily be the best option, but it is present outside animal bodies. I don't love the oil industry but we can only do our best within the institutions within the society we are born. (I would rather have great public transport personally than having to drive so much)

Also to anonymous above (and to the author's agreement): how is someone trying to avoid killing a intelligent, sentient being for their skin trying to be part of a club? Do you want to join the compassionate club? Or be a part of the institutions that promote their deaths?

Anonymous said...

Animal agriculture is not "the leading generator of greenhouse gases." The leading generator of "greenhouse gas" is the evaporation of water.

Second, the threat posed by "greenhouse gases" is questionable. Anthropogenic global warming (or climate change) is at best an unproven hypothesis. There are many issues with the assertions made regarding "climate change" - not least of which include the ethics of deleting contravening data, the ethics of silencing alternative hypotheses and stifling resulting debate, data quality, the use of "proxy" indicators in the absence of other data, the length of the observed historical record, the misuse of computer models in generating data *to confirm themselves,* and failure to consider other terrestrial and extra-terrestrial forces that impact earth's climate (e.g. the impacts of volcanic activity, and the impacts of solar activity). In real science, there should always be room for dissent, especially when it raises valid points - in "climate change science" there is none - "it is far too important" to be questioned at all.

Third, cows are just as environmentally friendly as most other species, and certainly more so than man. They are not some introduced alien species brought in by Martians to destroy the planet. Grazing livestock can solve numerous environmental problems - including wildfires, soil degradation, and desertification. Why do you think billions of people all over the planet put cow dung on their fields to grow crops? Hint: it's not because cows impoverish the soil.

Fourth, the "animal ag lobby" is not by any means "one of the strongest in the country." The so-called "environmental" lobby is far wealthier and exerts a lot more influence. It has also co-opted several federal agencies, including the BLM and the EPA. As for strongest in the country, I'd have to go with 1) the energy lobby, 2) the aging population lobby (AARP and so forth), or 3) (my choice) the liberal bureaucrat lobby (including SEIU) - arguably the richest and most powerful of the bunch.

Fifth, you misread (how?) my original statement. It is the Tesla purchasers who are trying to be part of a club. And as John has pointed out, they and the Tesla manufacturers are not too concerned about avoiding killing intelligent, sentient beings. I'm sure some of them would want to join "the compassionate club." I'm sure the majority of purchasers don't care. And as this post demonstrates, I'm sure Tesla doesn't care either.

Anonymous said...

Setting all the politics aside, stearic acid can be derived from plant-based sources. It can also come from tallow.

There are commercial sources available of plant-based stearic acid (commonly used for additives eventually going into food packaging, for example).

Joe Q. said...

I am sensitive to the concerns of vegans, but does the use of leather or stearate salt plasticizers actually lead to more animal deaths? I.e. if the world stopped using leather, would fewer animals die?

My assumption is that these are waste products originating from the slaughter of cattle or pigs for meat, and would otherwise be disposed of. As long as such slaughter is occurring, would it not make sense to make as much use of the animal as possible?