Fill out the GotSneakers form here to donate your old sneakers today!
A common theme of this blog is the advancement of footwear technology https://www.outdoorequipped.com/blogs/news/thorogood-and-the-wild-world-of-work-boots, especially in the realm of athletic shoes. These advances have produced impressive results--performance footwear undreamt-of in past eras. But there is a price to be paid for humanity’s hunger for advanced athletic shoes.
We’ve talked before about the drawbacks of the global garment industry and the phenomenon of “fast fashion.” Most clothing is manufactured overseas, and the combined manufacturing and transportation cost of these items adds up to a large carbon footprint. That goes for athletic shoes in particular. In 2018, 25 billion - yes, Billion - pairs of shoes were made, and over 2 billion of those were sold in the United States alone - enough for seven pairs for each American. About half of those shoes were made of various advanced plastics or other synthetic materials that are carbon-intensive and difficult to recycle. Sneaker production accounts for 1.4% of global greenhouse gas output - “Unusually high for a product that does not use electricity or require power-driving components,” says Randolph Kirchain, co-author of an MIT study that explored the impacts of the footwear industry. For some perspective, the entire airline industry contributes 2.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions.
Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle (In That Order)
Part of the issue is the materials used to make athletic shoes. Gone are the days when sneakers were leather uppers stitched to rubber soles. Of all the many advances made in the construction of athletic and running shoes, the most important for the overall performance of the shoe has been developments in the materials used. Compared to boots like the Thorogood American Heritage Series, which are largely made of leather and other natural materials, the best cushioned running shoes like the Altra Superior 4.5 or the Asics GEL-Kayano 27 are crafted from advanced, largely synthetic materials. Why? Because for their purposes, synthetics are just better. They’re lighter and more comfortable, they respond better to runners’ gaits, they absorb impacts on hard tracks better, they grip smooth running surfaces better, and they wick away sweat. Waterproof running shoes make use of nylon and other materials blended together to achieve a variety of properties and keep water out. These materials, however, don’t biodegrade as well as traditional materials, taking 30-40 years to degrade in a landfill. Synthetic materials are also carbon-intensive to develop, and emit harmful chemicals into the soil and air.
One thing we can do to help mitigate the effects of athletic shoes manufacturing is to opt for quality over quantity. The rise of fast fashion means that a lot of people buy cheap sneakers from big-box stores. Most people throw away these sneakers after only 125-200 days - half a year! 200 million pairs of sneakers then end up in US landfills every year. Those sneakers, remember, then spend 30-40 years there before slowly degrading. Consumers think they’re saving money buying this way, but the truth is that well-made sneakers that cost more also last much longer. Investing in a good, high-quality pair of running shoes and then sticking with them over the course of their lifetime not only saves money, but goes a long way toward reducing our carbon footprints and reducing the number of these shoes that end up in landfills.
GotSneakers and the Circular Shoe Economy for Recycled Shoes
So Step One is Reducing the number of shoes you go through. What about Reusing and Recycling? That’s where GotSneakers comes in. GotSneakers’ mission is to make it socially and financially rewarding for consumers to participate in what they call the Circular Economy for shoes. In conjunction with sellers like Outdoor Equipped, GotSneakers reimburses people who send in their shoes to be reused or recycled. Instead of a linear economy, where shoes are manufactured, used, and then discarded in the trash, this allows your Adidas to live whole new lives as green sneakers, cycling onto another person’s feet or into materials needed for construction of useful infrastructure.
Here’s how it works:
- Fill out the GotSneakers form on OutdoorEquipped.com.
- You get a 10% discount on your next pair of sneakers from us.
- We’ll send you a special GotSneakers bag so you can send in your athletic shoes for reuse or recycling.
- Together we’ll extend the usable life of your sneakers and prevent carbon from entering the atmosphere!
Depending on the condition of your sneakers, GotSneakers will determine whether they’re good candidates for Reuse. Kids running shoes are particularly good candidates for reuse. Say you’ve got a teenager who’s growing out of shoes left and right - those too-small boy’s or girl’s running shoes have a lot of use left in them, and GotSneakers will make sure those shoes see a second life on the feet of someone who needs them, someone experiencing poverty, homelessness, or displacement. Over half a million people in America alone are unhoused on any given night, and poverty and displacement are huge problems around the world. An estimated 600 million people worldwide don’t own a single pair of shoes, so all those hand-me-downs and lightly-worn sneakers can really make a huge difference in people’s lives.
If, on the other hand, you’ve got a trusted pair of kicks you’ve worn into the ground, GotSneakers will recycle them into various material streams based on the materials they’re composed of. Rubber materials get melted down and used in the rubberized surfaces in children’s playgrounds, running tracks, and footpaths. Athletic midsole foam makes a great underlay material for basketball courts and other sporting surfaces. Any fabric bits can be used for padding in things like football field goal posts. GotSneakers are experts at repurposing sneakers for a multitude of material streams and uses. We’ve all seen those materials in use in the world, and there’s a satisfying symmetry to making running surfaces and equipment to keep playful children safe out of material once used to pound the pavement.
Reused and Recycled Shoes As Part of the Solution
Since GotSneakers got started, they’ve stopped over 75 million pounds of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere, reusing and recycling 2.5 million pairs of shoes, and counting. Outdoor Equipped is excited to be a part of their work, and we hope you’ll join us. And while you’re at it, check out these other easy tips for lowering your carbon footprint:
- Wash your laundry with cold water wherever possible. Modern laundry detergent is very good, and rarely requires the use of warm water to get the job done. This gives your water heater a break, and will be easier on your clothes’ vibrant colors as well! Drying those clothes on a line during the warm months of the year will also save dryer energy and extend the lifespan of your clothes.
- Get a reusable water bottle and use it! Throwaway water bottles and food containers are all made from carbon-spewing plastics that we just don’t need to be using as much as we are.
- Walk, run, bike around! Ditch the car and feel the air in your lungs and the blood in your muscles. You’ll feel better, and the earth will thank you.
- Get yourself free of fast-fashion. Good, high-quality clothes and footwear will last and look great longer than more cheaply-made garments, and if you outgrow them, they’ll be better candidates to be put into the circular economy through GotSneakers or clothing consignment. Not to toot our own horn, but I happen to know a certain Outdoor Equipped online store that specializes in durable, long-lasting outdoor apparel that will stay with you for years of use.