Animal By-Products: “Ultimate in Recycling”

Interest in the uses of animal bits has gripped me lately. I keep wondering, “what’s in this that I don’t know about?” An episode of a BBC Three documentary, Kill It, Cut It, Use It took my personal views on the subject to a level higher than curiosity.

Skins and Fashion:
I had always known that leather came from cows, that you can purchase snakeskin boots and crocodile skin bags, yet it never crossed my mind that other animals give their skins for our fashion purposes. Pig skin accounts for 10% of the leather and suede goods on the UK market, most of which are in the form of bags, shoes and jackets. The big mystery animal however, was fish! Despite looking scaly and delicate, fish are used to cover sturdy things like shoes. Leather isn’t just cows.

“I miss the ocean.”
“I miss the ocean.”

Soaps and Carcasses: 
The off-cuts of sheep are used to create a substance called ‘tallow’ or ‘tallowaite’ that is used in most detergents, soaps, and conditioners and fabric softeners. The sheep’s head, hooves, innards and carcass is used, and these come from meat factories that have already taken the meat. You can buy detergents made with synthetically derived tallow substitute (though you would be hard-pressed to know what’s exactly in which soap), and this is where it gets interesting. Organic or chemical? There doesn’t seem to be anything wrong with using parts of an animal that will be slaughtered anyway that would otherwise end up in landfill. Organic seems a better choice to synthetic and is it respectful to toss out the head of a sheep after you’ve raised it for food?

 Brushes and Pigs: 
Surprisingly, brushes are still made with bristle – pig hair. When I was a child, my favourite morning program once explained that in the olden times they used this pig hair as toothbrushes. I remember because the resident comical host exclaimed, “I would have just grabbed the whole hog and-” then mimed rubbing his open mouth on a pig. This is why the idea of bristle seems ancient to me, and I was shocked to find that it is still used today.

I figured, though, that since I had already decided that using off-cuts isn’t so bad, then why should this bother me? Then they explained that they get the hair by boiling entire pigs. No off-cuts. Huh, guess that’s pretty wasteful since you can buy plastic brushes that won’t tangle your hair. Questions arose again: is the process of making plastic brushes better than boiling pigs that would be slaughtered for meat anyway?
Tricky. Trickier still that the discovery that pig’s aortic valves can be transplanted into sick people’s hearts and save their lives. The appeal of the pig comes from their use more than their life. Not to mention, pigs can eat people. Yes, I fear pigs. Don’t judge me. Does this mean I want them boiled for bristled, though?

Hair Spray and Ocean Creatures: 
The hardest question came with the lesson of ‘chitosan’. This product is used in hair sprays, mousses and serums because it mimics the body of prawn: flexible, yet firm. Wait, prawns? Yep, they catch millions of prawns a day purely so us ladies can make sure no fly-away hairs escape from our pony tails. The prawns are processed so that all colour and protein is removed, then ground up to become the powder that is the basis of hair spray.

After processing, before becoming powder
After processing, before becoming powder

You’re spraying an ocean creature onto your head. This is the tricky part because they’re not using off-cuts, they’re catching prawns specifically to use in whole for beauty products – which aren’t exactly heart valves. The Swedish plant shown in Kill It, Cut It, Use It highlighted the fact that they process 4 and a half million prawns every day. That’s a lot of vanity right there.

Books and Cows:
Let’s go back to the by-product aspect of animal usage. Books are held together with an animal derived glue that keeps hard-covers on, binds the pages to the spine and attaches any book-marking ribbons to the cover. This glue is made from abattoir collected bones of cows. In a rather simple process they use a solvent to collect the fat from inside the bones, then put it in jars. This is a great example of not letting animal parts that would be tossed away go to waste.

The man at the printing factory supplied the title quote, “ultimate in recycling”, and made the point that glue is organic and renewable – unlike synthetic glues which are derived from oils and drilling.

Those farm yard animals you doodled? That wasn’t an accident. That was my death rising up through your pen.
Those farm yard animals you doodled? That wasn’t an accident. That was my death rising up through your pen.

Some of us might not be phased by animal by-products in our stuff at all, while some may struggle over whether or not to turn their backs on these products. To me, discarding off-cuts is a terrible waste and a complete slap in the face of those slaughtered animals – “we’ll eat you even though we don’t need to, but screw making something useful out of your yucky bits, immoral, gosh”. Off-cut free products paint a nice picture in our heads of a lovely world where ingredients don’t come from pounded up dead things, but synthetic substitutes are often created from non-renewable or energy consuming resources, and this seems no better than using the bones of an animal that will die regardless of your choice of detergent.

The show ended with the ideal [it is our] ‘moral duty that the bits don’t go to waste’. I have to agree. There will always be meat factories, at least for the immediate future, so why not use the rest of the animal instead of adding it to landfill and using something energy taxing? Products that use animals purely for one ingredient however: how vain can we be? Is it necessary to slaughter millions for a sweet spray of beauty product that our peers won’t notice anyway? It’s a debatable topic, and each of us will have our own opinions and suggestions. I know I won’t be avoiding hard cover books, but I will stop buying hair spray, and yes, there’s a difference.

[Kill It, Cut It, Use It link]


Author: SighOhJessica

I like stories, history, the bizarre, biographies, mysteries, justice, nature and mountains. I write about... not many of these things on my blog.

6 thoughts on “Animal By-Products: “Ultimate in Recycling””

  1. I’m with you on using absolutely everything of something that has been killed, not letting any of it be dumped or wasted.
    I am *horrified* about the prawns – I’ve never heard that before. Was just talking with my husband tonight about dredging/hand-diving scallops. Obviously, fishing has been of enormous economic and cultural importance in Scotland, but the fishing industry is also undeniably one of hidden horrors. So much ‘by catch’ (euphemism for lots of things that get killed and dumped because they’re not the target/legal catch), over-fishing, destruction of the sea-bed… Re the scallops, there was this great quote from a marine biologist who said ‘dredging for scallops is like cutting down a rainforest to catch a parrot’. 😦

    1. I was horrified too! I had no idea that we used them this way.
      Definitely hidden horrors, I fear over-fishing but aren’t too clear on it at the moment so need to read up. Wow… I didn’t know catching scallops led to so much destruction… And that’s a good analogy.
      We eat so much seafood in Australia, or it’s encouraged for us to do so but do we really so much so often :/

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