Nature is actually very important to you, you may even be vegan, you don’t drive a car – but sneakers are completely your thing? Well, we’re sorry, but: Your shoes are probably the most environmentally harmful thing in your closet. Why this is so – and what to look out for when buying sneakers.
We didn’t just know that fast fashion sucks since yesterday. And now there are really enough alternatives to the Billo Primark shirt: Buy less, focus on vintage, support labels that are committed to sustainability. Easy. You now have the feeling that you have managed to get your environmental awareness and your love of fashion under one roof – but what about your feet? Hand on heart: how many shoes do you have? How many do you wear on a daily basis? And which shoe do you know where it’s from?
As small as your CO2 footprint may have become – there is probably a lot more dirt on your shoe soles than you think.
Why are shoes such polluters?
Anyone who is a little interested in fashion knows that a T-shirt for just a few euros is neither good for people nor for nature: sweatshops in Southeast Asia pay their workers shit and let them work under dangerous conditions, toxic dye chemicals are discharged into rivers and get into the groundwater, long transport routes cause enormous CO2 emissions. Nevertheless, a lot has happened in the last ten years. But when you look at reports on the fashion industry, it’s all about clothes. What about shoes? One quickly forgets in this equation. Do you know how many shoes are produced per day worldwide? A whopping 66.3 million pairs. This means that every resident in the UK could wear a new pair of shoes every day.
Unfortunately, shoes are often a thousand times worse for the environment than clothes – regardless of whether it is a Triple S from Balenciaga or a no-name model from Deichmann. Experts believe that the standards in the shoe industry are ten years behind those of the rest of the fashion industry when it comes to, for example, the safety, wages and health of workers.
The material question: leather or plastic?
What are shoes made of? In most cases it is not easy to answer because many shoes, especially in the sneaker area, are made from different components. Traditionally, the most important component is still leather today : It is robust and weather-resistant and is used from classic dress shoes to edgy sneakers, both as an outer and inner material, as a sole or simply as an ornament. The problem: Because the natural material would rot quickly in its original state, it is often treated with many toxic chemicals – including chromium trioxide , which has been proven to be carcinogenic.
In Bangladesh, a country where there are no strict environmental regulations, the consequences of the leather production located there are fatal – for people and nature: 90 percent of the tannery workers who work there do not live to be 50 years old. And the Buriganga River, which flows through the capital Dhaka, has already been declared biologically dead due to tannery waste. Yes easy, just switch to vegan sneakers, do you think now? Lol, nope, honestly, they’re rarely better. Components such as foam soles, synthetic upper material and plastic shoelaces are made from fossil fuels, i.e. petroleum. By now we also know how shitty it is – I don’t even want to begin with the microplastic abrasion that your shoe soles produce.
Recycling? With many shoes actually impossible
Many sneakers – especially those that are touted for a particularly blatantly developed air-cushioned sole or for their breathability, consist of up to 65 different parts – their assembly requires up to 360 processing steps. Sewing is done in the rarest of cases – strong glue is usually used. And that leads to the next problem, because: Because they are glued together, it is extremely difficult to recycle such shoes . Because that only works if the different materials are disposed of individually – almost impossible for sneakers. Over 90 percent of the shoes thrown away worldwide therefore simply end up in rubbish tips.
If you interested in the topic: The author Tansy Hoskins now has a book on the global footwear industry posted: “Footwork” describes the impact that Air Max Yeezy and co . has on man and nature.
Which shoes can you wear – and which sneakers should you keep your hands off of as a sustainably living person?
Of course, there is no better and simple solution than doing without. So if you can get used to the idea of not indulging in the recently dropped sneaker every month , but only shopping for kicks when your shoes are really so worn that they would not even survive a festival, you already have won a lot.
The French brand Veja , for example, offers super nice fair trade sneakers: They are made in Brazil, are made of organic cotton, natural rubber and vegetable-tanned leather (which is less harmful to the environment). Last year Converse launched the new “Renew” line, whose shoes are made from upcycled denim, recycled plastic bottles and scraps of fabric – the same applies to shoes from the sustainable label Everlane . Big players are also increasingly focusing on sustainability: Adidas , for example, has been working with the Parley environmental initiative for a long time.
The collaboration’s sneakers are largely made of recycled plastic waste and Parley Ocean Plastic (upcycled plastic waste). Plastic waste is collected and recycled on beaches all over the world for sustainable sneakers .