>> Sunday, November 15, 2009
First off, let me say that on the spectrum of Things That Make a Big Difference to Saving the Planet, shoes are pretty far down there. But if you, like me, are trying to live as sustainably as possible, shoes do matter. Because we all own a pair (or two or three or four).
So why should you be conscious about your shoes?
1) Because of what shoes are made of...
Tanning leather uses many toxic chemicals such as mineral salts, formaldehyde, coal-tar derivatives, and various oils and dyes, some of them cyanide-based. Also, the leather usually comes from animals raised in factory farm settings.
On the other hand, fake leather shoes are made of plastic - generally PVC, the evil king of all plastics.
2) Because of how shoes are made...
Most shoes are produced in countries with poor environmental and labor standards (or with less enforcement of those standards). Workers labor under harsh conditions for little pay (in many places, well below a liveable wage) and are often exposed to toxic substances.
3) Because there are so many shoes on the planet...
According to Simple Shoes, 12 billion pairs of shoes were produced worldwide in 2004 with a projected production of 20 billion shoes in 2010. In 2005, Americans purchased 1.4 billion pairs of shoes - approximately four and a half pairs of shoes per person. That's a whole lot of shoes!
Okay, now here's what you can do:
- Donate your oldie-but-goodie shoes to a thrift store.
- Recycle your athletic shoes through Nike's Reuse a Shoe program. Says Nike: "Since we started the Reuse-A-Shoe program in 1990, we've collected more than 24 million pairs – in other words, enough to create a chain of athletic shoes that goes all the way around the world more than five times. That’s a lot of kicks kept out of the landfill." And that's just the number of shoes collected, a minuscule amount of the number of shoes that are bought (and tossed) every year.
- Purchase fewer shoes. I have to admit, I've never been the type of girl to go ga-ga over shoes, so I really don't get the shoe hoarding habits of so many women. I'm not going to judge you if you're that type of girl - I have my own questionable habits (Diet Coke) - but maybe you could cut out one or two pairs?
- Buy quality. Investing in good shoes is not only eco-friendly (because you'll be shopping for shoes less often) - it's also a money saver. It might seem counter-intuitive, but in general, spending more for a quality product will save you money in the long run. Think of your shoes as an investment for your feet.
- Repair, not replace. Locate a good cobbler and make your quality shoes last.
- Look for shoes made from eco-friendly materials. Many conventional shoe companies have started manufacturing a "green" line. Or you can look for a sustainably-commited company like Simple Shoes, which produces shoes with recycled tires, recycled plastics, organic cotton, bamboo, hemp, and other earth friendly materials.
- Buy used.
Tips for the Budget Conscious
Quality or eco-friendly shoes can be pricey, so I've got one important tip for you: Shop the sales! A couple months ago, I bought some flip flops from Simple Shoes for $10 (regularly $40). I wish I'd waited to buy my hemp EcoSneaks, which I bought at full price but saw on clearance a couple weeks ago for half price!
The other budget conscious route is of course to buy used. But I've found that finding used shoes can be touch and go. Shoes are an item that people wear until they're falling off their feet, so good shoes don't usually end up at the thrift store. I've found better selection at consignment stores, but they're also more expensive - often the same price as new shoes on sale but not in new condition. I've had much better luck with used shoes for my kids.
Where I'm At
I've been able to get my dress shoes at the thrift store, but my everyday sneakers I bought new from Simple Shoes. I've also got my eye on some TOMS. My kids almost always get used shoes.
Photo by Ella's Dad