Most of us don't think about this, but there are many components to a pair of shoes that make it un-eco-friendly. Conventional shoes, as well as some vegan shoes, are made from synthetic and petroleum-based materials, many of which are not recyclable and which release chemicals into the air, contributing to atmospheric pollution. Millions of pairs of shoes end up in landfills where chemicals leach into the soil and then contaminate water supply. Read on find out which shoes and manufacturers can be trusted for their environmental friendliness...
Environmentally Harmful Ingredients in Shoes
Harmful toxins, which factory workers are exposed to, are released during the manufacturing of shoes: chrome, a heavy metal that can be carcinogenic, is used during the tanning process of leather shoes, and toxic volatile ingredients such as toluene, which can cause neurological damage, are commonly found in conventional glues. Among other environmental and health offenders is polyvinyl chloride (PVC), a hormone disruptor. PVC never decomposes, only breaking down into smaller pieces, and its manufacturing triggers the emission of many dioxins. Unfortunately, it is frequently used in vegan shoes, which contain no animal products or by-products but which are not necessarily eco-friendly.
Some alternatives to these toxic materials and chemicals include hemp, water-based glues, vegan shoes made without PVC, and recycled materials like rubber and plastic. Hemp grows fast, is biodegradable and does not need a lot of water or insecticides because it naturally resists pests. Water-based glues do not contain volatile ingredients and their use reduces potentially harmful environmental run-off during production. Car tires, which would otherwise be incinerated and hence produce carcinogens such as carbon monoxide and Arsenic, can be recycled to make rubber soles. PET, the clear plastic of soda and water bottles, can be turned into shoelaces.
There are a few companies committed to making eco-friendly shoes using such eco-friendly and/or recycled materials. Simple Shoes sells a variety of styles, from sneakers and casual shoes to sandals ranging from $30 to $90. The company uses a special cushioning made of recycled content in the footbeds of the shoes called BioFoam, as well as an entirely biodegradable sole they call BioStep. A slightly more expensive brand, Earth Footwear also sells active footwear and boots, ranging from $49 to $159. Both brands offer shoes for men, women and kids, and also sell eco-friendly vegan shoes. Other shoe companies sell both conventional and eco-friendly shoes or a mix of both, using a certain percentage of recycled rubber for instance. That is the case of Timberland, with its Earthkeepers line, Patagonia, and Terra Plana.
Consider Second-Hand and Refurbishing
Check out your local thrift store before buying a new pair of shoes, as you can find treasures at low costs. Repairing worn shoes is a way to save money and to get the most use out of your shoes, as well. Click here to find a repair shoe store near you. Also, Patagonia and a few other companies have partnered with Mountain Soles for sole replacement, zipper replacement and stitching: you can send them your outdoors shoes which will get resoled in 1-2 weeks. Prices for resoling range from $65.00 to $100.00, a tad bit expensive but worth the cost on your ever so comfortable, favorite pair of shoes.
A Shoe's After-Life
When your shoes have reached the end of their life, do not throw them in the landfill. For worn, but usable shoes, One World Running and Soles4Souls are organizations that will donate your shoes to someone in need. For shoes that can no longer be worn, donate them to Nike Grind, where your old shoes will be made into basketball courts and tracks. Next time you go shoe shopping, choose to strut your eco style.
If you know of other good green shoe brands which you would like to tell our readers about, please drop a line in the comments box below. Thanks for sharing!
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