Try not to roll your eyes at the post title, I’m a bit of a pun lover, and thankfully I am married to an english teacher who is one also.
When I think about mass consumption in our closets, what first comes to mind are shoes. You know the common stereotype on television of the everyday woman and her large shoe collection; the one that makes you doubt your womanhood if you own any less than 20 pairs of shoes.
In reality 24 billion pairs of shoes were made in 2018, over 2 million pairs sold in the US alone, which is more than 7 pairs per person each year. So the reality of the consumption of shoes worldwide seems to potentially match this common stereotype.
Thankfully the awareness of ethical shoe production and consumption has been growing in the last 10 years, but about 300 million pairs of shoes are still thrown out every year, and shoes are quite difficult to recycle due to the variety of mixed material components. Using fewer materials in a pair of shoes makes it more likely to be recycled, but is much harder to find.
Like clothes, shoes pre-1800s were made of materials from the natural world, such as natural rubber, leather, and wood. Today we still use some of these natural materials, although there has been a shift to synthetic materials such as synthetic rubber, synthetic leather, petroleum, and plastic. If you’ve been reading my previous 10 x 10 posts, this is not surprising. These synthetic materials are cheaper, easier to access, and are lighter weight, which is attractive to the shoe industry.
Using leather in shoes holds the same environmental impact as eating meat. One kilogram of leather is responsible for 10 times as much greenhouse gas production as synthetic alternatives or even more natural options such as hemp or wool. Using leather also contributes to the destruction of rainforest, and also contributes to manure and harmful chemicals being disposed into our earth and waterways.
Check out my Day 5 post talking about alternative clothing fabrics to read about the impact of using fabrics such as cotton and wool in our footwear.
We are currently in a plastic pollution crisis, and shoes are not exempt from this. Most shoes are partly or at times completely made from plastic and plastic-like materials. Billions of pairs of shoes are produced every year, mostly made from virgin plastic, rubber, petroleum.
You may be wondering, if shoes are completely made from plastic, could’t we just recycle it? “…The limits of plastic recycling are currently hard. It takes energy to collect the materials, remake them into their second existence—and in many cases, that second life is their last, so recycling extends the process but doesn’t solve the underlying problem” (National Geographic – read this article if you’re interested in reading more about the history of shoes and the materials we use to make them).
As mentioned above, the demand for making shoes more responsibly is growing, so there are a lot of different innovative designs from shoe companies. Unfortunately a majority of designs are made from recycled plastic, which assists in reducing the amount of virgin plastic being produced and brought into our world, but does not address end-of-life plastic pollution, as the shoes are still without the ability to breakdown in a landfill.
Also, the continual increase in our consumption of shoes is counteracting the improvements being made in the industry.
HOW TO SHOP FOR SUSTAINABLE SHOES
Although my #1 advice would be to seriously limit your purchasing of footwear by getting the best life out of what you currently own, there will come a time when we may need to purchase new. So, here are things to think about:
- Consider the materials used:
- what is this made of?
- what would be its end of life?
- how long will this pair last?
- Avoid buying plastic or petroleum-based materials
- Consider who made it & how; ensure those making the shoes are payed a fair wage and treated well.
- Beware of Greenwashing by researching the company to find:
- ethical & environmental certifications
- historical practices
- reputation in industry
- company vision & mission