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Shoes are horrible for the environment. Around 23 billion shoes are produced each year. Sneakers are especially bad because they have so many parts. No country buys more sneakers than the United States where people purchase three pairs a year on average. Shoe manufacturing accounts for roughly ⅕ of the fashion industry’s carbon emissions. Sneakers alone generate roughly 313 million metric tonnes of CO2 every year, which is equivalent to the annual emissions of 66 million cars.

The heel, insole, midsole, and upper parts of a shoe are made from materials like polyester, nylon, and latex, which are created by mining fossil fuels. These fossil fuels emit tons of greenhouse gasses like carbon dioxide and methane and the wells dug to obtain these substances severely damage local ecosystems. Processing those materials into synthetic textiles also uses a lot of energy, increasing the overall pollution. Some upper parts of sneakers use natural materials like cotton, wool, and leather, which are also not eco-friendly materials (read my blog on clothing for more details on that). The outer soles of shoes are made of rubber that has gone through a process called vulcanization, which adds sulfur to the superheated raw rubber making it more elastic and sturdy. By-products of coal and oil are also used to strengthen the outer soles of shoes. Producing these materials accounts for 20% of a sneaker’s carbon footprint. 60% of a shoe’s carbon footprint comes from manufacturing.

A typical sneaker has 65 different parts that are made by specialized machinery. This makes it easier to mass-produce each part separately in different factories instead of making the whole shoe at one factory. When the parts are made, they must be transported from different factories all over East Asia to one assembly plant. These transportation vehicles emit even more greenhouse gasses. The last 20% of sneaker production’s emissions are during assembly, where the different components are cut, poured, melted, baked, cooled, and glued before the final products can be stitched together. This assembly has more than 360 steps and relies on machines that are not eco-friendly. When the assembly is complete, the shoes are packaged and shipped to stores around the globe. People will buy these shoes and wear them until they wear out. Since the shoes are made of so many different materials, it is almost impossible for them to be broken down into recyclable materials, so they are thrown away. 20% of these shoes are incinerated and the rest end up in landfills where they can take up to 1,000 years to degrade.

To combat these issues, we should support sneaker companies that use more organic materials, make sneakers with fewer components, have energy-efficient factories, and consolidate the production of the shoes. We should also donate shoes we no longer need. The very best thing to do is to buy fewer shoes. If you do not need a shoe, do not buy it. We need to proactively reduce waste and be mindful of our purchases.

As you can see, I am very hard on my shoes and I don't switch them out very often.

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