Posing a question that’s worth answering requires courage, but the real nobility lies in how one reacts to the answer. That is to say, when confronted by a new found truth, one needs to be prepared to abandon what they once held as an absolute certainty and give precedence to newly acquired information. In essence, this is the process of growth.
So, which is better, down insulation or synthetic down? Well, like most things in life, it isn’t black and white, and perhaps there are better questions to ask. For example, what are the negatives to using down and synthetic down? How does each option effect the environment? What are viable options to manufacture garments?
Despite the durability and versatility synthetic fibers offer, it doesn’t come without it’s negatives. Microfibers, for example are microscopic pieces of plastic that are polluting our oceans and lakes. How does this happen? When washed, synthetic garments and insulation shed mini pieces of polyester that make their way past the filtration system and eventually to our water supply, poisoning animals and our environment. There have been some innovations to minimize microfiber pollution, for example the Cora Ball which helps trap fibers in the washing machine, but doesn’t prevent pollution entirely. Additionally, some insulation providers like Thermore have opted to manufacture synthetic insulation without the use of microfibers.
The second point is that polyester, acrylic, and petroleum-based faux and fibers are simply not biodegradable the way that animal products are.
On the other side on the coin, the manufacturing process for animal farming is perhaps even more harmful – the CO2 emissions that are accompanied with feeding geese and cattle creates toxic chemicals such as ethoxylates and nonylphenol, which are harmful for our water and our air.
Now for the third, and perhaps most provoking component to this equation – ethics. To say the down industry is unethical is like saying that water is wet, of course it is. According to the American Down and Feather Council (ADFC), 80% of the world’s down currently comes from China where animal regulations are suspect at the very best.
In the age of information, organizations like People for the Ethical Treatment (PETA) are committing to exposing these unethical practices. The most recent video titled actress Alicia Silverstone “Urges Everyone to Go Down-Free in This Undercover Exposé,” revealing footage of unethical live plucking and force feeding geese. Through awareness and education ADFC and PETA are looking to mitigate and regulate these types of practices. Fortunately, many synthetic insulation manufacturers have set their sights on creating the best down alternatives. In a PETA article “These Down Alternatives Offer Cozy Vegan Perfection,” groups like Flocus, Thermore, and 3M Thinsulate are featured as pioneers of the synthetic down industry, most of which are using synthetic insulation that is 100% recycled from PET bottles.
So, returning to the original question of which is better down, or synthetic down? Well, it’s clear that things begin to fall off track when we prioritize profit over ethics and environmental responsibility; economics over humanity. We must dig deeper to seek for true sustainable options for our clothing, options that are healthy for planet Earth and her inhabitants.
We have options that weren’t available to us before; a good place to start would be to recycle and utilize the plastic that’s accumulated to the million trillions over the past decade, and look for comprehensive ways to limit mass farming live animals for garments.