Shoes are an important accessory for an active lifestyle, and the proper shoe can increase comfort and help prevent injury. Depending on how frequently you wear your athletic shoes, they can break down in a matter of months. Unfortunately, athletic shoes aren't environmentally friendly. A team of MIT researchers found that manufacturing a new pair of running shoes generates about 30 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions, equivalent to leaving a 100-watt bulb on for a full week. But the environmental harm doesn't stop there - the synthetic materials of shoes can take up to 1,000 years to decompose in a landfill.
Giving up exercise isn't the answer. Instead, consider these steps to help reduce the environmental impact of your athletic shoes.
Donate to secondhand users
Whether you look locally or globally, there are plenty of people in need of shoes. If your shoes are too worn out for your athletic needs, they may still be functional for general use for someone else. If you're interested in donating locally, consider contacting the Salvation Army or Goodwill or a nearby community center. For a wider outreach, Soles4Souls donates clothes and shoes to locations across the United States and to more than 120 countries worldwide.
Recycle your worn-out sneakers
If you've worn out our shoes beyond what is considered adequate for reuse (torn upper fabric or the tread is worn out or gone), there are still ways to avoid a landfill. Since the early 1990s, Nike's Reuse-a-Shoe program has collected worn out athletic shoes of any brand and pre-consumer manufacturing waste and ground them down to create synthetic athletic fields, tracks and courts. Now, more than 1.5 million pairs of shoes are collected and recycled each year. This is an effective last resort for shoes that probably won't be accepted in donation. These shoes can be donated at most Nike and Converse retail stores.
Invest in friendlier footwear
Many athletic footwear companies have begun to look into ways to make their shoes more environmentally friendly, from using boxes made from recycled cardboard to using recycled materials. However, the field leader is Brooks, a running shoe company that has created new midsoles that are a significant environmental upgrade to traditional models. Most midsoles are made of a slow decomposing foam-like rubber called ethylene-vinyl acetate. The Brooks Biomogo midsole contains a non-toxic compound that encourages microbes to break down the midsole once it enters a landfill. Brooks' Compression Molded Preform manufacturing process creates 50% less waste than the traditional manufacturing method, which cuts midsoles out of large sheets and leaves quantities of unusable excess materials. Seventy-five percent of its Green Silence running shoe is made of post-consumer recycled materials: it has a biodegradable insole, 100% post-consumer recycled laces, uses non-toxic dyes and colorants and is held together with water-based adhesives.
Secondhand reuse is a great way to give to those less fortunate than you, and conveniently is also an environmentally friendly practice. Like any green initiative, the more informed you are the more effective your efforts will be. Check out what your favorite shoe company is doing to reduce its environmental impact, and be sure to keep your shoes out of landfills.