Finding eco-friendly footwear can be a challenge, even in a marketplace adapting to the growing demand for it. It’s not always obvious to the naked eye whether a shoe or boot is eco-friendly, and unfortunately labels and sales staff aren’t always accurate, either.
Why Conventional Footwear Isn’t Eco-Friendly
Vegetarians often seek footwear made from synthetics to avoid buying leather. Leather comes from millions of animals killed each year for their hides, those hides constituting the most economically profitable aspect of the slaughterhouse, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals says in its Shopping Guide to Compassionate Clothing.
But it’s not only the source of leather that’s of concern when it comes to living green. The process used to cure leather relies on toxic chemicals, including dangerous mineral salts, formaldehyde, coal-tar derivatives, cyanide-based oils and dyes, and chrome, PETA says.
Choosing synthetic footwear does not necessarily solve the problem. Just Live Greener notes synthetic shoes are often made from environmentally unfriendly materials, too. The synthetics may be petroleum-based, and may be manufactured using carcinogenic chrome, neurotoxic toluene, or hormone-disrupting polyvinyl chloride.
Manufacturers of ninety-eight percent of products sold as environmentally-friendly are guilty of greenwashing, The Ecologist noted in 2009. Shoes are no exception. The Generation Green blog described last year how one company aggressively advertised its vegan shoes to be good for the Earth and labeled them “100% lead-free” despite their exceeding the voluntary lead limit agreed to by shoe companies by 250 percent. Another blogger told of finding shoes labeled eco-friendly but discerning no information whatsoever to support or repudiate the claim. The solution? Start with a healthy dose of skepticism and do some research before buying footwear advertised as green. Be especially cautious when a manufacturer makes a green claim about a particular component of a shoe; the rest may not be.
To keep your footprints entirely eco-friendly, avoid tossing your green shoes in a landfill once you’re finished with them. Even if they’re too worn to be of use to anyone else, Just Live Greener notes you can donate old athletic shoes to Nike’s recycling effort which transforms them into running track and playground surface material. While the options for no-longer-wearable dress shoes are more limited, the Mother Nature Network suggests a trash to treasure approach.
Shoes that are still wearable can be donated to a variety of charities including the Cinderella Project which accepts women’s dress shoes for promgoers, Soles4Shoes, and Art for Humanity, among others.