Sustainable Shoes

Green Tips | February 9, 2018

When we look down at our feet, we may not be aware of the impact that the manufacture, use, and disposal of our footwear has on the environment. With the health of our feet and the planet below in mind, here are five tips to green your footwear and sportswear – by holding yourself accountable as an eco-friendly consumer, and holding footwear companies responsible for their impact.

  1. Know the facts about the shoe cycle. Footwear companies tend to outsource factories to China and India, where, under sub-par working conditions (to say the least), factories produce at least 20 million shoes per year. The production involves the use of fiber, synthetic rubber, foam, dyes, the probable carcinogen hexavalent chromium, cotton, and leather. The result: 30 pounds of waste from each pair of shoes made in these environments. The chemical runoff and coal-based emissions from these factories also threaten to alter the ecosystems of our planet in unsustainable and unpredictable ways.

  2. In the short run, while sustainably sourced shoes come to the fore, purchase shoes from companies with a track record of fulfilling their commitments to the environment. Timberland, for instance, grew 5 million trees to combat deforestation in Haiti.

  3. In the long run, purchase shoes and athletic wear made from manufacturing waste. This is a new industry with a lot of short-to-medium-term potential while a long-term solution to plastic waste remains in the pipeline. Nike partnered with Parley for the Oceans to create a new shoe in 2017, the Ultra Boost Uncaged Parley, using plastic from Parley’s Maldives ocean clean up. The shoe was made using 95% ocean plastic and 5% recycled materials. Parley and Nike also expanded the effort to soccer jerseys. The People’s Movement Up-cycles plastic water bottles to create its sneakers. Veja also does this with athletic sneakers. It’s clear that the field of eco-innovation is expanding, and there is plenty of opportunity to use the plastic floating around in five vortexes worldwide. Companies like Parley and The Ocean Cleanup are poised to be big players in the expanding market of upcycled ocean plastic products. The oceans may soon be contested territories not for land like they were 500 years ago, but for reusable plastic waste.

  4. Donate your shoes. Plenty of locations accept your gently used shoes such as Soles4Shoes. For more worn sneakers, there’s always The Salvation Army and Goodwill. It’s also possible to donate them to someone in need in your community or on the streets of New York City.

  5. Recycle your shoes. Millions of shoes end up in landfills each year. When you recycle your shoes and textiles, you can break that cycle. Nike‘s Reuse-a-Shoe program turns old shoes into Nike Grind and makes playground and playing field surfaces using this new material.


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