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Your Sneakers Are Polluting the Planet

Ever since the streetwear renaissance began, sneakers have gained cult status among the fashion set, making them more covetable as ever. But as consumption continues to grow, so does the waste.   

Over 23 billion pairs of shoes are made every year and more than 300 million pairs are thrown out in the same time period — a large portion of which are trainers. Often made from environmentally unfriendly materials like synthetic rubber, nylon and plastic, manufacturing sneakers can be a carbon-intensive process as well. They usually contain as many as 65 components and nearly 360 processing steps to assemble. Most of these components have to be strongly glued together which makes it very hard to break apart for recycling post-consumer use. 

In an interview with The Guardian, Shahin Rahimifard, a professor of sustainable engineering at Loughborough University claimed that, “The way shoes are designed and manufactured at the moment doesn’t take into account their end of life.” In his experiments with recycling sneakers, he found that shoemakers add 10-15 different types of material and upto 4 different types of plastic in a single shoe that make it really hard to sort for recycling. Due to such mindless manufacturing, 90% of sneakers end up in landfills where they could take up to 1,000 years to degrade.

Image credit: National Geographic
Image credit: National Geographic


Tackling recycling is key when it comes to sneakers as it is an industry that simply can’t do without some form of plastic even if that means integrating an upcycled or partly recyclable version of it. Created for the very reason of function and performance, athletes require shoes that can provide them with whatever boost and comfort they can get and that has only been possible through the means of plastic. The only probable solutions at hand are to;

  • Make informed purchases when it comes to shoes needed for sport or activity. These could potentially be made with minimal components or recycled plastic.
  • Buy fewer pairs of better quality shoes that last long.
  • Make sustainable choices when it comes to non-athletic sneaker purchases. They could be made from either vegan leather or other bio-materials.  

    Published by: Jharna pariani/ 2020-11-10

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