Your Sneakers Are Part of the Plastic Problem

The Kid Should See This

Plastics are used throughout modern sneakers to make them more comfortable, stronger, and lighter. But this hodgepodge of different plastics, “stitched and glued and molded together in complicated ways,” also makes shoes very hard to recycle. Our options are often to give them away, grind them up, or throw them away, adding to the planet’s plastic problem. The bad news:

Worldwide, more than 24 billion pairs of shoes were made in 2018, with over two billion pairs sold in the U.S. alone. That’s more than seven pairs per person each year filling up American’s closets, piling up near doorways, and eventually making their way to the trash.

list of plastics in shoes
How do we balance sustainability with our culture of fashion, functionality, affordability, and a basic need for shoes?

Take a closer look at the anatomy of today’s sneakers and the history behind them with this National Geographic video: Your Sneakers Are Part of the Plastic Problem. It’s an informative addition to their series The Story of Plastics.

D’Wayne Edwards at Pensole
The video features visionary sneaker legend and Pensole Footwear Design Academy founder D’Wayne Edwards, footwear forcaster Nicoline van Enter, and some good news:

The World Footwear 2030 Report predicts that sustainability will drive innovation in the footwear industry. And it’s already happening. Big brands are experimenting with things like biofabrication, like using mushrooms to grow the materials for their shoes. And 3D printing, which significantly reduces waste during the manufacturing process.

One example of this is the Adidas Futurecraft Loop. Here’s how it works: “If you a shoe of only one material, you can grind that up, take it back to pellets, melt that again, and turn it back into the same TPU [thermoplastic polyurethane] that the shoe was made of.”

 Adidas Futurecraft Loop
Will companies continue to invest in these sustainable solutions? What will consumers push for from their footwear? Can we create a circular economy for sneakerheads? Some history:

Read more about why your shoes are made of plastics.

Then watch this video next:

Fungus, The Plastic Of The Future


Plus, more videos: How traditional Chinese cloth shoes are made, Shoes by Primitive Technology, and colorful animal sculptures made from recycled flip-flops.

Rion Nakaya