If you multiplied the number of shoes in your closet by the world's population, you'd understand why 24 billion pairs were made in 2018 alone. Because we live in a consumerist world, those numbers are still rising — and they're excruciating. What's worse is that less than 5% of those shoes are recycled, leaving hundreds of millions to pollute our landfills forever.
You might be thinking: “Why don't people recycle or donate?” That's not the problem. Most shoes are not biodegradable shoes. That's the problem. Read on to find out how eco-friendly shoes can serve your feet and the planet you walk on.
Why Non-Sustainable Footwear Is a Problem
Non-sustainable footwear is bad for the environment. It pollutes landfills, relies on scarce resources, and the manufacturing process comes with a hefty carbon footprint.
For example, rubber shoes are among the 10 products that take the longest to decompose. While leather shoes can take 25 to 40 years, rubber soles can last 50 to 80 years. So, as tempting as it is to justify a purchase, the cost of buying non-sustainable footwear far outweighs its benefits. A well-worn shoe's lifespan won't even last a quarter of the time it takes for it to decompose.
You might be thinking: “Well, it's the manufacturer's fault. What can I do about it?” You'd be right to question how much control you really have. The answer is 100%.
When it comes to buying footwear made with sustainable shoe materials, there are two parties involved: The shoemaker and you. Just because the shoe exists though, doesn't mean you have to buy it. You have the opportunity to be part of a global, conscious effort to reduce carbon emissions by shopping smarter, starting now.
How Biodegradable Shoes Are Changing the Game
Sustainable change involves two things: greater awareness and better decisions. As consumers, we communicate with our dollars. What we pay for, we support.
While it's easy to adopt the “out of sight, out of mind” mentality, this approach has grave consequences. If your shoes are not eco-friendly, your sale ultimately supports the manufacturing process, the materials, and the landfill. Huge bummer.
You might think: “Well, I'll have these shoes for a while, so it'll be worth the money. I won't have to worry about recycling them for years. And I'll donate them when I'm done.”
Recycled and donated shoes may delay the landfill decomposition process, but they won’t eliminate it. Biodegradable shoes are the only way to stop the problem from growing. For example, if you buy a pair of compostable sandals, you might keep them for 2 or 3 years and recycle them. After they’ve gone through multiple owners and been discarded, they’ll ultimately turn to natural compost and won’t clog up the landfill. The same can’t be said for non-sustainable shoes.
How Does It Work?
Once you familiarize yourself with the materials that shoes are made of — like rubber, plastic, and leather — you can better understand the consequences of the production process. Shoe materials become shoes with the help of chemicals, glue, and stitching. Getting shoe-smart means knowing your synthetic materials.
- Chromium VI is a hazardous tanning chemical found in 85% of all leathers in the world.
- Phthalates are toxins that are used to increase the flexibility of plastic and rubber shoes.
- Plasticizers like polyvinyl chloride (PVC), acetyl tributyl citrate (ATBC), alkyl sulphonic phenyl ester (ASE), and diisononyl adipate (DINA) are all contributors to plastic shoes' impossibly long lifespan.
- Nitrosamines are carcinogens used in leather shoes.
- Nickel is used in metal accessories.
It's one thing to unethically use animal skins for shoes, but then to have toxic chemicals to preserve them? Ouch. As is true for food, unrecognizable ingredients indicate chemicals. Just as you wouldn't want chemicals in your body, the same goes for having them on your body.
Sustainable Shoe Materials
Masterful marketing and alluring brands make shopping a mind game. Stats and facts are not available on shoeboxes, so how can you tell if your shoes are biodegradable? Conventional shoes don't sport information about their manufacturing process and there's a reason for that. Their production process is nothing to brag about.
When it comes to finding the best-quality shoes for your feet and the earth, keep an eye out for these keywords.
- Recycled materials
- Bio-based and organic claims
- Responsibly sourced
- Carbon neutral
- Sustainably certified
From these traits, you'll instantly know none of the aforementioned chemicals were used in the manufacturing process. If you are not given this type of information, you’re probably not dealing with a sustainable or biodegradable shoe.
Earth-friendly shoe companies want everyone to know about their commitment to the environment. It’s certainly true of EarthFriendlyShoes.com, and it’s true of the many ethical shoe manufacturers we carry, including Acorn, Sole, Reef, and Arcopedico.
Sustainable footwear can be made with any of the following sustainable shoe materials:
- Cotton (preferably organic)
- Natural latex
- Castor oil
- Palm leaves
- Pineapple leaf fibers
Paired with non-toxic glues for manufacturing, biodegradable footwear are natural, durable, and life-changing. Plus, who wouldn't want a shoe made from bamboo and pineapple leaves? After all, some of the best sustainable shoe materials are also the coolest.
Experts project that 40 billion pairs of shoes will be produced by 2025, and that’s bad news for our landfills. The best way to combat the issue is with biodegradable shoes. Better than slowing the rate at which shoes decompose, biodegradable footwear is compostable and therefore counteract landfill pollution long-term.
The Benefits of Biodegradable Footwear
- Reduces chemicals and fossil materials
- Reduces waste
- Uses Earth's materials, so they can return to Earth
- Reduces carbon emissions
- Uses less water and energy
- Benefits economic and ecological systems
Sustainable footwear is forever. Not only will biodegradable shoes sustain your feet, but they'll live on long after you're through with them. Besides, why recycle shoes when you can plant them?
Walk This World Differently
As the esteemed poet and activist Maya Angelou once said, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, you do better.”
We'd like to believe everyone's doing the best they can. That said, it's hard to keep buying conventional, non-sustainable shoes when there are compostable boots, biodegradable sneakers, and other eco-friendly shoes waiting to be discovered. If you talk the eco-talk, biodegradable footwear is how to walk the eco-walk — literally.
For the activists, advocates, environmentalists, vegans, conservationists, and shoe enthusiasts of all ages, your sustainable shoes beckon. When it comes to change, people pick and choose their battles. You may not be ready to give up some things, but the style, quality, and mission of biodegradable shoes can be your goal.
So what are you waiting for? Browse our full selection of sustainable shoes, and find the best vegan shoes, compostable sandals, and biodegradable boots on the market.