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Innovative vegan leather belt made from mycelium fiber, fungal spores and plant fibers. los_angela / iStock / Getty Images Plus

Leather is everywhere – in our shoes, our purses and luggage, our winter jackets and stylish furniture – but its effect is seen globally. 

To create the leather for our clothing, homewares, and other purposes, billions of cows are slaughtered each year. The livestock sector – which produces both food products and leather – is the biggest use of agricultural land worldwide. Grazing land and farmed feed crops for cattle result in deforestation, eliminating vital carbon sinks, destroying ecosystems, and harming nearby communities. Cows also produce methane: a potent greenhouse gas linked to climate change. 

Leather is everywhere – in our shoes, our purses and luggage, our winter jackets and stylish furniture – but its effect is seen globally. 

To create the leather for our clothing, homewares, and other purposes, billions of cows are slaughtered each year. The livestock sector – which produces both food products and leather – is the biggest use of agricultural land worldwide. Grazing land and farmed feed crops for cattle result in deforestation, eliminating vital carbon sinks, destroying ecosystems, and harming nearby communities. Cows also produce methane: a potent greenhouse gas linked to climate change. 

The skin harvested from cattle and other animals goes through a three-step process: preparation, tanning, and crusting (and sometimes finishing as well). Tanning makes the leather flexible and removes hair, fat, and meat, and during crusting, the material gets thinned, dried, softened, and colored through the use of chemicals and machinery. The waste from these processes is full of carcinogenic chemicals – like chromium, a heavy metal used in tanning – and often gets dumped into waterways in countries without strong environmental protection laws, like India, China, and Bangladesh. 

Both animal and human abuses are prevalent in the industry; tanneries are known for their dangerous conditions and machinery, as well as exposure to cancer-causing chemicals, according to Gizmodo. While traditional vegan leather removes animal cruelty from the equation, it’s usually made with polyurethane, PVC, and other plastic and synthetic materials that contain hormone-disrupting phthalates, and eventually create microplastics that end up in oceans, natural environments, and even our own bodies.  

Yet, the industry is changing, and innovations in leather are abound – and, some of the materials being used might surprise you. 

Cacti 

Beneath a cactus’s prickly exterior, Adrián López Velarde and Marte Cázarez have found a new alternative to animal-based leather. The two developed Desserto: a type of leather made from the Nopal cactus, more colloquially known as the Prickly Pear. Top retailers of leather goods like Karl Lagerfeld, Fossil, and Everlane have begun selling products made with the cactus-based leather. Mercedes-Benz has even incorporated Deserttex – the company’s faux-leather product for automobiles – into an electric concept car. 

If you’ve ever welcomed a cactus into your houseplant family, you know that they’re extremely tolerant of drought. They grow quickly and require very little water: so little that Desserto cacti are only watered with rainfall, so no irrigation tactics are used in their fields. According to the company, the product saves 164,650% of water compared to animal leather, and 190% compared to the polyurethane-based vegan leather.

Cacti even sequester carbon (that is, remove it from the atmosphere). On the company’s 14 acres, the Prickly Pears absorb 8,100 tons of CO2 every year, which is much less than the emissions the products create. Desserto also employs organic growing methods on their land, and uses the byproducts of production for animal feed.

Pineapple Leaves

Does pineapple belong on pizza? And, more importantly, does it belong in leather? Carmen Hijosa thinks so. 

Hijosa, who worked in the leather goods industry for many years, wondered if the strong fibers in pineapple leaves could be used for something. Inspired by Barong Tagalog – a traditional garment in the Philippines made from these fibers – she went on to found Ananas Anam and develop the pineapple-leaf-based product Piñatex, which is now used by Hugo Boss, H&M, Paul Smith, and Nike. The company works with Filipino pineapple farmers, collecting leaves that otherwise would have been left to rot, and thereby turning this agricultural byproduct into a valuable new product. About 480 leaves are used to create one square meter of Piñatex, which weighs and costs less than traditional leather. The cellulose fibers are dried in the sun, purified, and then made into a mesh that’s finished with a plant-based resin. The whole process creates hardly any waste, Hijosa told CNBC in an interview, while 30% of leather skins are typically wasted in the traditional leather-making process. 

Palm Leaves

Dutch designer Tjeerd Veenhoven pioneered Palmleather over a decade ago, ahead of the alternative-leather curve. He wanted to find a use for the leaves of the 80 million Areca Betel Nut Palm trees growing in southern India, which are rarely used. He found that the brittle leaves become more flexible when dipped in a biological softening solution made with glycerin, water, and some other ingredients. Now, local factories in India, the Dominican Republic, and Sri Lanka manufacture Palmleather, which can be used for making bags, book jackets, shoes, and the iconic, unique Palmleather Filigree Rugs. 

Mycelium 

Mushrooms are magic, and many industries have been harnessing their power to break down plastic, fertilize fields, and erect buildings. Why not revolutionize the fashion industry while we’re at it? 

With its versatility and low environmental impact, companies are jumping at the opportunity to grow products with mycelium: the thread-like root structure of fungi. Biotechnology company Bolt Threads released their faux-leather product, Mylo, and in 2021, Mycoworks debuted their mycelium-based leather in the world of high fashion as a Hermès Victoria bag. Unlike some other mushroom leather, they grow the products themselves, engineering the mycelium cells to fill out 3-D structures to the exact specifications of a product, generating almost no waste or scraps in the process. The mycelium is fed a mixture of sawdust and organic materials as it grows, creating a dense, strong material as it expands. 

Apple Scraps

Copenhagen-based Beyond Leather has found a use for the 25% each apple that is wasted after it’s pressed for cider or juice. Beyond Leather is taking that waste – 500 to 600 tons of it – from a small Danish juicer that processes apples from local farmers and turning it into Leap: their new leather alternative. 

The polymers and short fibers in the apple are crucial to building their products, although it’s only one of the materials they use. Leap is a three-layered product of apple waste, natural rubber, and a backing of cotton and wood fiber, finished with a protective coating. The product can be disassembled at the end of its life and disposed of properly. Although the company hopes to use only apple waste for their products in the future, they currently use organic cotton, the wood-pulp-based fiber Tencel, and a polyurethane/bioplastic mix. But, while not entirely made of plants, the production of Leap requires only 1% of the water needed for traditional leather, and emits 85% less carbon dioxide, according to the company. 

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Gearing up for a summer road trip? Whether you’re vegan, vegetarian, or minimizing factory-farmed meat and dairy in your diet, eating on the road can be tough. Ask a plant-based friend and they’ll tell you the struggle of ordering at the drive-through window; they’ve probably eaten more meals of French fries and hamburger buns topped with cheese and lettuce than they’d care to remember. Where can you grab a quick bite without sacrificing your veganism, or resorting to a plain burger bun and a fountain soda? 

Of all the fast-food joints out there, a few stand out for their wealth of veggie options, and can always be depended on for a plant-based meal. Chipotle bowls and burritos can be filled with rice, beans, and veggies for a filling meal. To add protein, try their Sofritas (shredded tofu cooked with chipotle peppers and other spices). The franchise once sold vegan chorizo for a limited time at a few locations, but this menu item has since been eliminated (but, maybe we can hope for its eventual return). Moe’s Southwest Grill has similar ingredients, including tofu as a protein option. 

Gearing up for a summer road trip? Whether you’re vegan, vegetarian, or minimizing factory-farmed meat and dairy in your diet, eating on the road can be tough. Ask a plant-based friend and they’ll tell you the struggle of ordering at the drive-through window; they’ve probably eaten more meals of French fries and hamburger buns topped with cheese and lettuce than they’d care to remember. Where can you grab a quick bite without sacrificing your veganism, or resorting to a plain burger bun and a fountain soda? 

Of all the fast-food joints out there, a few stand out for their wealth of veggie options, and can always be depended on for a plant-based meal. Chipotle bowls and burritos can be filled with rice, beans, and veggies for a filling meal. To add protein, try their Sofritas (shredded tofu cooked with chipotle peppers and other spices). The franchise once sold vegan chorizo for a limited time at a few locations, but this menu item has since been eliminated (but, maybe we can hope for its eventual return). Moe’s Southwest Grill has similar ingredients, including tofu as a protein option. 

Taco Bell is another vegan standout, where meat can be replaced with black beans in pretty much every dish. When ordering online, the menu marks vegetarian items certified by the American Vegetarian Association with a green V. Try the veggie burrito, beans and rice, or potatoes, and ask to replace any dairy toppings with pico de gallo for a more satisfying meal. For Californians or others lucky enough to have a Del Taco nearby, enjoy their burritos with beans instead of meat, or try the Beyond Guacamole Taco made with Beyond meat. 

Luckily, more and more fast-food franchises have been adding plant-based items to their menus after growing pressure from consumers. Here are a few more places that you can rely on for a vegan or vegetarian meal on the go.  

*It’s important to note that many – if not most – fast food restaurants will fry all of their items in the same fryers, using the same oil. That means any plant-based items on the menu likely face cross-contamination. If this is a concern for you, ask the restaurant about their practices when you place an order.

McDonald’s 

McDonald’s is definitely more limited in its vegan options, at least in the US (although other countries have all kinds of plant-based options), and you don’t want to get stuck eating apple slices for your meal. The biggest blow to vegetarianism at this popular franchise might be their French fries, which are fried in beef fat and contain “natural beef flavor.” To make up for it, order an apple pie, which, shockingly, contains no dairy. A salad without dressing or cheese can do for dinner in a pinch. At breakfast time, order the Fruit & Maple oatmeal (made with water rather than cream), or vegetarians can grab a yogurt parfait, egg McMuffin, and pancakes. If you’re in Texas or California, head to one of the few McDonald’s locations offering the McPlant: a vegan Beyond Meat burger.

Burger King 

Unlike McDonald’s, Burger King French fries are vegan (thank goodness). Enjoy them alongside an Impossible Whopper – which is vegan when ordered without cheese or mayo – and a salad without cheese or dairy-based dressing. Breakfast is a bit easier, with vegan French toast sticks, hash browns, oatmeal (made with water), or an egg and cheese sandwich for vegetarians.

Subway 

As far as vegetarian options go, Subway is solid. The subway Veggie Patty is made with brown rice, oats, and veggies, but it does contains eggs and milk, making it unsuitable for vegans. But, the chain restaurant does offer vegan Black Bean or Mediterranean Vegetable soup. Otherwise, load up on veggies and vegan condiments like the BBQ, buffalo, and sweet onion sauces on vegan bread (either ciabatta, Harvest, Hearty Italian, Roasted Garlic, and Sourdough, and the tomato basil and spinach wraps). 

KFC 

Unlike many fast food restaurants, KFC doesn’t explain plant-based options on their website, so we rely on third party sources to determine whether their dishes are vegan or vegetarian. 

Vegans rejoiced in 2022 when the fast food chain released Beyond Fried Chicken for test runs, but this option is no longer available (and, according to their website, the product was “NOT vegetarian, vegan, or Certified Vegan” anyway, as it was fried in same oil and fryers as meat products). So, at KFC, settle in for a meal of sides. Their corn on the cob, fries, house salad (without croutons), and apple turnovers are vegan, and vegetarians can enjoy more menu items, including their biscuits, cornbread muffins, macaroni salad, and potato salad.

However, there is some uncertainty about other seemingly plant-based sides: the green beans, baked beans, greens, mac and cheese, and red beans and rice are thought to contain meat flavoring or other meat products; so, unfortunately, they’re off the table if you want to be completely certain. The mashed potatoes also contain chicken broth. 

Wendy’s 

While UK Wendy’s locations offer The Veggie Stack – a vegan burger with or without cheese – US options are more limited. Vegan options are all potato-based: the baked potato (without dairy toppings), French fries, and Homestyle Potatoes. However, they do have a few solid salad options for both vegans and vegetarians, including the Garden Salad (without the cheese or croutons, which contain butter), the Southwest Avocado Salad without the meat and cheese, and the Apple Pecan Salad without the chicken, blue cheese, or pecans (prepared with honey) for vegans. Vegetarians can also order a breakfast sandwich sans bacon or sausage.

Shake Shack 

Vegetarians have it pretty good at Shake Shack with the grilled cheese sandwich and ‘Shroom burger: a Portobello mushroom filled with cheese and crisp-fried. Since 2018, some locations also offer the Veggie Shack: a vegan patty made with grains, greens, and herbs, topped with avocado and other deliciousness, including their vegan lemon aioli. If they don’t have the Veggie Shack, well, it might be another meal of fries and soda. At least they have good lemonade. 

Popeye’s 

While their plant-based Creole Red Bean Sandwich in only available in the UK, there are other options for vegans and vegetarians at this chicken-centered takeout spot. Vegans are safe with the Cajun fries and vegetarians can try the biscuits, mashed potatoes (without gravy), and mac and cheese, although Popeyes has released no information officially declaring these items meat-free. Avoid the red beans and rice, Cajun rice, and green beans, which are all cooked with meat. 

Sonic 

While Sonic’s onion rings unfortunately aren’t dairy-free, vegans can enjoy their tater tots and French fries with one of the many available sauces. Their soft pretzel is also prepared with butter, but ask if they can do it without. A grilled cheese sandwich or a side of Mozzarella sticks, cheese fries, and the Ched ‘R’ Peppers can round out a vegetarian meal. Don’t forget to wash it all down with a slushy too.

Dunkin’ Donuts

Vegetarians have plenty of options at Dunkin, even after the Beyond Sausage breakfast sandwich was discontinued. Try any of their donuts, egg and cheese sandwiches, bagels, muffins, and other breakfast pastries.

Vegans have a few options too. Dunkin lists several bagels (Cinnamon Raisin, Plain, Everything, and Sesame), English muffins, hash browns, oatmeal, and avocado toast as vegan options on their website. Enjoy your breakfast alongside a beverage made with almond milk, oat milk, or coconut milk.

White Castle 

For a burger-heavy spot, White Castle has great vegan options. They offer two plant-based, vegan patties: the Impossible Slider (available with or without cheese), and the Veggie Slider made by Dr. Praeger’s, topped with one of their many sauces on a vegan bun. Both the French fries and the onion rings are vegan, and vegetarians can also dig into their mozzarella sticks and Cheese Curd Nibblers.

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An outdoor wedding ceremony in a park. Maxwell Monty / EyeEm / Getty Images

Surrounded by friends and family, your wedding day can be among the best of your lives, but it can also be one of the most wasteful. After the lockdowns of 2020 and 2021 postponed many wedding festivities, 2022 will be a record year for marriage, with about 2.5 million weddings expected. Here’s how to plan a celebration that comes without a high environmental price tag. 

While a backdrop of surf and sand might be alluring, the environmental cost of a destination wedding is high. Between 2 and 3% of all global CO2 emissions are from air travel, and a faraway wedding requires guests to fly. To reduce the emissions associated with your big day, plan the celebration centrally, where most friends and family can travel without boarding a plane. Of course, there will always be a few outliers, but consider where it's easiest for a high percentage of guests to reach by car or public transportation. 

Surrounded by friends and family, your wedding day can be among the best of your lives, but it can also be one of the most wasteful. After the lockdowns of 2020 and 2021 postponed many wedding festivities, 2022 will be a record year for marriage, with about 2.5 million weddings expected. Here’s how to plan a celebration that comes without a high environmental price tag. 

Skip the Destination Wedding

While a backdrop of surf and sand might be alluring, the environmental cost of a destination wedding is high. Between 2 and 3% of all global CO2 emissions are from air travel, and a faraway wedding requires guests to fly. To reduce the emissions associated with your big day, plan the celebration centrally, where most friends and family can travel without boarding a plane. Of course, there will always be a few outliers, but consider where it’s easiest for a high percentage of guests to reach by car or public transportation. 

Pick an Eco-Friendly Venue

Along with location, choose a venue that prioritizes sustainability: a far easier task these days as many venues are going green, leaving plentiful options for your big day. 

When choosing a location, search for LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Certified or Energy Star certified buildings; the Green Building Information Gateway is a great way to find green buildings and venues for any event. Otherwise, look into venues that otherwise consider their environmental impact. When touring a space, make sure to ask questions: How do they handle waste? If food is included, where do they source their meals from? 

Or, skip the indoor venue entirely, and get married outdoors! With a beautiful natural backdrop, an outdoor venue will eliminate the need for lots of decorations — and, of course, the need for lighting or heating/cooling. 

Rent Whatever You Can

A wedding day requires many items that you’ll probably only need once: items you can opt to rent instead of buy, saving both money and resources in the process. Bridesmaids dresses, for one, are often costly and will only be worn once. The woman-owned wedding wear company Borrow Love Return rents dresses for your bridal party, as well as veils, jewelry, and other staples for your big day, and The Black Tux has a great selection of formalwear for grooms and groomsmen alike. Local boutiques might offer similar services as well. As a plus, you might be able to afford garments that otherwise would have been out of your price range. 

Sustainable Rings

Sustainable wedding and engagement rings have become much more common, and you won’t have to sacrifice any beauty for sustainability — and, you’ll memorialize a momentous occasion with an item that’s not linked to human and environmental exploitation. The mining of gold has a devastating impact on ecosystems and water quality; it’s estimated that 20 tons of waste are generated to create a single gold wedding ring. Instead, shop for secondhand gold jewelry to melt down for new rings, designed by you and your partner.

Along with gold, diamonds also require intensive mining and are associated with many human rights abuses. For each mined diamond, between 200 and 400 million times more rock needs to be extracted, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. If you don’t want to forego diamonds altogether, use pieces that are already in the family, or shop for sustainable diamonds. Some can be made in labs and look nearly identical to those found in nature, although there is some debate about their true environmental impact, given the energy required to produce them. Visit a sustainable jeweler and talk to them about their practices, such as where the stones are procured, and whether their lab-grown diamonds are produced using renewable energy rather than fossil fuels. 

Registry 

Registries are a great way to set up your mutual home together — but, when choosing your desired wedding gifts, consider what you really need. If registering from big-box stores, add only things you don’t already have, or items you won’t be able to gather secondhand. 

Alternatively, opt for a sustainable registry. Everlastly offers “registries for conscious couples,” pulling items from sustainable companies and rating the environmental impact of each. Many sustainable companies will also offer a registry themselves, like Ecovibe: a Portland-based Black- and women-owned company that sells home goods, kitchenware, plants. Or, have guests make charitable contributions in lieu of gifts. Choose an organization that you’d like to support, whether it be a local group or a larger nonprofit.

You can also ask guests to make monetary contributions towards sustainable choices you’d like to make in your life together — like participating in a CSA, powering your home with renewable energy, setting up a garden, etc. — and use a registry as an opportunity to fund personal environmental efforts.

Pick Flowers Mindfully

Of all cut flowers sold in the U.S., 70% are imported from Latin America. Each bloom has to be grown — which requires water, land, and fertilizer — packed, and transported quickly. Choose locally-grown flowers for your big day instead, which don’t need to be transported as far, and often require less packaging to keep the blooms fresh and intact on their way to the venue. Find local farms or florists that source from sustainable growers, and have discussions with the florist ahead of time to learn their/the nursery’s practices. Seasonal, native flowers also cause less damage to ecosystems, but might limit your options based on the time of year. Use the seasonal selection as an opportunity to organize color palettes and decorations around the floral arrangements. 

Or, forgo flowers altogether and decorate with potted houseplants, annuals, or perennials instead, which can be brought home or planted in the ground after the celebration. Small decorative plants can also be given out as party favors at the end of the night. Many plant stores will rent out their inventory for events as well, so you aren’t left with a forest of houseplants to care for afterwards.

Forgo Wasteful Traditions

Not every wedding needs to be by the book. Many traditions are quite wasteful, and you might find that they don’t add much to your day anyway. 

Cut out the confetti, for one, especially if you’re celebrating outside, or use a hole punch to cut out small pieces from leaves to create biodegradable confetti. 

Party favors are a nice token of the event, but might be an added source of waste. Hand out those small plants used to decorate the tables, or give experiences instead, like a gift card for a free coffee from a local coffee shop the morning after the party. 

Cutting the cake — especially a very large one — might not be vital to the party either. Some couples even cut a fake cake with only one real tier, and then distribute slices of sheet cake or other desserts to minimize waste. 

Low-Impact Meals

Providing plant-based food for guests is a great important way to eliminate waste and cut down on party-related emissions. Serving vegetarian meals can cut the food-related emissions of an event by 75%, or 90% for vegan meals, according to the Environmental Working Group. Pick a caterer that has great vegetarian or vegan options, or consult with them beforehand about preparing meat substitutes or sustainably sourced, local animal products. Also make sure that delicious food isn’t wasted, like 10% of most wedding food; calculate how much food you’ll need based on the guest list (especially if there’s a buffet).

Recycle and Compost

Even with correct estimations, you might end up with some paper, plastic, and food waste at the end of the night. Without the presence of oxygen, decomposing food in landfills produces methane: a greenhouse gas 80x more potent than CO2. Keep food waste out of landfills by setting up a system for composting food scraps, perhaps coordinating with a local composting service. Use as few single-use items as possible, and have both paper and plastic recycling available for the unavoidable things, or invest in a TerraCycle box for all other plastic packaging not accepted by conventional recycling services. 

Donate the Rest

From food to flowers to wedding dresses, much of what’s left at the end of your wedding day can be donated. Bring unopened trays of food and other leftovers to local pantries, kitchens, or community fridges; collaborate with an organization ahead of time to make sure they can accommodate your leftovers. Petals for Hope also rearranges and redistributes used flowers. Consider donating your wedding dress to one of these great organizations that make wedding dresses affordable for brides, or use the proceeds to benefit a number of important causes (and, it’s tax deductible).

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