Did you know some 300 million pairs of shoes are thrown into the landfill in the USA every year? And of those millions of pairs of shoes tossed into a sad landfill, it may take up to 40 years for them to completely decompose. Yikes! If moving towards more sustainable footwear has been on your list for a while, now’s the time to make the switch.
The impact of shoe waste on the environment
The millions of shoes thrown away each year is just the tip of the already melting iceberg. It turns out, people throwing away worn and torn shoes does a bit of damage, but the manufacturing process is even more costly. One report estimates somewhere between 29% to 68% of the total impact of shoe waste comes from the manufacturing process. We’re talking materials like rubber soles and plastic, as well as the water and energy it takes to make the shoe.
Unsurprisingly, footwear is one of the major contributors of greenhouse gas globally. According to researchers at MIT, a typical pair of running shoes can produce 30 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions. And two-thirds of running shoes’ environmental impact, as we mentioned earlier, comes from the manufacturing process.
Water waste, landfill waste, material waste, and so much more is harming our environment in ways that your grandma couldn't have imagined.
How shoe waste is linked to a cruelty-free lifestyle
I don’t have to convince you that less waste leads to a cleaner environment. It does and that’s good for all creatures (small and large) on this planet. That’s also what a cruelty-free lifestyle promotes. The questions are “how can we live in a way that reduces harm to life as we know it? How can I do my part to reduce cruelty done to animals, the environment, and other people?”
Those questions are answered by choosing low-waste, mindful footwear. Sustainable footwear encourages less shoe waste in landfills and helps shoes that do end up there to biodegrade or be recycled much easier. This, in turns, helps keep our water and land clean.
Recycled footwear, in particular, can also reduce animal harm by using sustainable eco-friendly materials like plant-based leather (apple leather is so cool!) instead of animal-based materials. It also uses recycled materials from other products that would otherwise have ended up in landfill.
Reducing our shoe waste in general is the right move. Cruelty-free advocates know that this lifestyle is beyond simply reducing animal harm, but involves helping animals and humans to thrive on a planet that’s clean, less wasteful, and more beautiful to live on.
Back to the basics: how to reduce, reuse and recycle your footwear
Now's the time to dust off our environmental science 101 books from college and dive back into the concept of the three R’s: Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle.
We can reduce our carbon footprint, by buying only a few pairs of shoes. You know, the ones we actually use. The trendy footwear sitting in your closet that you only wear twice a year probably aren't the best investment in your wardrobe or the planet. So, simply resist the urge and reduce your consumption.
Reuse your shoes by donating them to others. Donate gently worn footwear to your local thrift store or homeless shelter to give them new life with someone else. Or donate your shoes to an organization that distributes them to the global market. Non-profits like Reuse Your Shoes can take your gently used shoes and give them to someone in need elsewhere in the world.
Recycling your footwear can be just as easy as reducing or reusing them. There are several brands doing good work in the recycled shoe space. Some brands encourage you to buy their shoes, wear them out, and where you’re done, ship them back for recycling. Other brands are using 100% recycled materials that take previously used materials and turn them into something new and beautiful. While other brands are making biodegradable, plant-based shoes that will decompose naturally. However you like to recycle, the options are endless.
Ready to make the investment in footwear that's good for you and the planet?
5 Recyclable, low-waste, and biodegradable shoe brands to watch:
1. Thousand Fell
Thousand Fell is one of my favorite low-impact, recyclable shoe brands. Thousand Fell offers a closed-loop system, where you rock their amazing footwear, and send it back for recycling when you’re done. Genius and impactful.
Rothy's is a great footwear brand for those looking for washable and recyclable shoes made from recycled plastic bottles. They’re a great example of how you can turn waste (plastic bottles) into something beautiful.
Cariuma is a Brazilian-based brand creating eco-conscious footwear. Stylish, low-impact, and comfortable. What else do you want?
Saola offers recycled shoes made from natural materials like cotton and algae. Throwing on footwear that's made with biodegradable materials is a good move–and look.
5. Nothing New
An all-around amazing recycled shoe brand using materials like fishing nets, cotton, and rubber to create shoes with purpose. Gotta love it.
That's a (recycled) wrap!
As much as we want to throw stones and blame the shoe manufacturing industry for their wasteful practices (which they totally deserve), we, too, have a role to play as consumers in reducing the demand for conventional footwear. With our choices, we can shape consumer demand for eco-friendly footwear and move the needle towards sustainable, low-impact shoes that help maintain the planet we love.