Shoes From Recycled Materials

gym-shoes, trainers image by Yuri Osadchi from

Making shoes from recycled materials is a trend that more and more manufacturers are embracing. Once the domain of smaller companies with an eye on environmental responsibility, now the biggest names in footwear have sustainability programs in place. From dress shoes to casual, sneakers to boots, shoes made from recycled materials are populating the market in creative and interesting new ways.

Early Forms

An early form of footwear that would one day be made of recycled materials, known as huaraches, were worn in Central and South America with a sole made from animal hide or woven plant fibers. With straps made of grass or hide, they protected the feet from rocky terrain and sun-baked surfaces. In the 1930s in Mexico, tire treads began to be used as soles for huaraches. Much later, in the 1990s, this early design caught the attention of Nike, who created a shoe line called Air Huaraches.

A Climate of Change in Manufacturing

Footwear manufacturers have joined the green movement by recycling materials like plastics, inner tubes, car tires and cork. Environmentally conscious production was, after all, an aspect of doing business many companies never considered. Environmentally conscious footwear production involves better management of energy sources as footwear companies reduce their production emissions and the carbon embedded in their products' components.

Using sustainable materials such as cork for footbeds, latex rubber for the outsole (the part that comes in contact with the ground), and leathers or skins (from cows, pigs and goats) instead of synthetics are all ways to manufacture footwear with a reduced impact on the environment. Even the tanning process, a source of pollution in footwear manufacturing, can be altered from using heavy chemicals and minerals like chromium, to vegetable tanning which uses the bark and leaves of various plants.

Materials Sources and Usage

Some footwear companies are recycling things you never even considered as recyclable for footwear and some are using a combination of recycled and sustainable materials for their footwear lines.

Some examples of sustainable materials include:

Cork, a product of the cork oak tree, is used for footbeds. An advantage of using cork is that it is soft, making it comfortable for your foot to rest on. It's also hydrophilic, this is, it wicks moisture away.

Bamboo is used in shoes to reduce odors, and is one of the fastest growing plants in the world. An eco-friendly advantage of using bamboo is it grows without the use of pesticides.

Some examples of recycled materials include:

Recycled car tires: tires which are cut in half and then into smaller pieces for use in sneakers. By utilizing what is essentially considered trash for outsoles on shoes, footwear manufacturers prevent tire incineration and the release of harmful chemicals into the air and water sources.

Post-consumer recycled paper: any paper goods such as copy paper, newspapers and magazines that is used to make packaging for recycled shoes. An advantage of using PCR paper, as it's known, is the reduced carbon footprint and extension of the life of the material.

Reducing Toxic Waste

Toxic waste can be reduced by eliminating the use of volatile chemicals, adhesives and compounds in the production process and adopting non-toxic materials. Using non-toxic sustainable materials like water-based adhesives and non-toxic dyes and colorants made from plants are just a few of the methods used to reduce toxic waste.

Styles Offered Today

Styles of recycled footwear today are a far cry from the recycled footwear of the 1990's. Today you can find slides and sandals made by Dr. Scholl's, Patagonia, Terr Plana and many more. Boots and shoes made from recycled leather and suede, using tires for outsoles, are made by Timberland, Clark and Simple. Sneakers made with post-consumer recycled (PCR) materials come from Nike, Brooks and Converse. Today recycled shoes cover a broader range than ever before, with diverse product offerings that are both fashionable and functional.