Footwear For The Environment — 3 Eco-Friendly Twists For Your Shoe Collection

Each year in America, 300 million pairs of shoes are thrown away, taking an average of 30 to 40 years to decompose. While simply not buying — and throwing out — so many pairs of footwear may sound like the only solution, there are several ways in which we can lessen the environmental impact in regard to our shoes. From the value in maintaining your favorite shoes for the long run to the importance of buying your next pair responsibly, here are just a few ways that you can be fashion forward and eco-friendly.

Maintaining — and upcycling —  your favorites

Tossing your favorite pair of shoes when they get too worn can seem like the logical option, though there are other options when looking to help the environment while keeping your favorite kicks around longer. While the sole inserts can be easily replaced in your favorite sneakers, the life of even your most designer pair of shoes can be prolonged as well. Learning how to clean your shoes like a pro can seem like a major challenge, though it doesn’t have to be — in fact, taking your shoes to a professional will ensure that they’re well taken care of. From color restoration to professional cleaning and repair, you’ll be able to extend the life of your most prized shoes in a simple way.

For old favorites that you simply aren’t in love with anymore, upcycling them is another option, thus allowing you to get a whole new shoe in the process. From adding a fashionable patch to neon laces, even reviving an old and musty white pair of shoes can be achieved. According to a GQ Australia post, one late 2022 TikTok trend involving dyeing your shoes with coffee can allow for a fashionable swap that can revive your old shoes and give them a stylish makeover of a light teddy-bear brown.

From donating to buying second hand

When it’s time to buy a new pair of shoes, many may be quick to dismiss the option of buying second hand. While old shoes can be recycled through some special programs, donating your old pair and buying a new pair second hand can also be ideal in helping the environment. Whether you’re at a thrift store or a yard sale, it’s quite possible to find good quality, lightly used (or even new) shoes — thus making it a fantastic way to find your new favorite pair. 

While buying a pair of second hand shoes can be a great way to help the environment by keeping shoes out of the landfill, disinfecting them before wearing them is always a good idea. According to Nike, disinfecting a pair of used shoes can be done by applying disinfectant spray, hydrogen peroxide, rubbing alcohol, or bleach to eliminate infectious diseases from dirty/second hand shoes. “Make sure to leave the shoes wet with the product for at least five minutes or follow the directions on the label. Allow your shoes to dry completely before wearing them.” 

Shopping with the environment in mind 

For those who wish to buy a new pair of shoes, doing so in an eco-friendly manner is possible. Making it a point to wisely invest in your shoes is just one way to help stop the cycle of overproduction/overconsumption, from prioritizing items that you plan to get the most use out of to investing in quality materials. “Sustainability in fashion is about stopping the cycle. For individuals, this means buying less and investing in items you truly love and will use for a long time,” says Kathy Kearns, sustainable fashion strategist at Third Law. 

The Travel + Leisure article notes that companies making an effort to promote circular consumption and reduce pollution should be at the top of your list, while seeking out shoes made from recycled materials can also make a positive impact. “Anything derived from oil — ahem, plastics — are the least sustainable,” says Kearns. With that in mind, doing your research and keeping a list of what you’re looking for and the brands that align with your goals can be a great way to truly invest in a quality, eco-friendly shoe collection. 

Due to the number of shoes wind up in the landfill, adopting eco-friendly habits when it comes to your own footwear can be a great way to make a difference. From buying second hand, shopping sustainably, and keeping your old pairs around for as long as possible, you can effectively implement eco-friendly practices within your shoe collection.