A number of sports shoes are manufactured with harmful chemicals that are released into the environment. They are sometimes disposed of in harmful ways, such as incineration or dumping them in landfills, which exposes our environment to these toxic chemicals. Sports shoe production is exceptionally carbon intensive, accounting for 1.4% of the global greenhouse emissions, which is significant given that air travel is responsible for 2.5 percent of all emissions. Considering that trainers have to endure much more than a regular pair of shoes, the durability aspect is very important and when it comes to performance, unfortunately, synthetic materials hold up better than natural ones.
So, you’re always going to need running shoes – what can you do to mitigate the impact your shoes are having on the environment? Firstly, choose your brand wisely. Many of the big players in the market are starting to become much more aware of the sustainability of their apparel, and it couldn’t come soon enough. Nike are currently pushing their ‘Move to Zero’ campaign, which they say is their ‘journey towards zero carbon and zero waste to help protect the future of sport’. With their clout, it’s important that they’re seen to be doing their bit to support the move towards a more environmentally way of producing and recycling products – apparel labelled ‘sustainable materials’ is made from at least 50% recycled content, and shoes with the same label are made from at least 20% recycled content by weight. Nike are also tapping renewable energy sources for its factories and aiming for carbon neutrality, and in 2018 they were recognised by Textile Exchange as the brand using the most recycled polyester in the industry for the sixth year in a row; from 2010-2018, the brand turned 6.4 billion plastic water bottles into footwear or apparel. Really impressive stuff.
In 2015, Adidas teamed up with the environmental initiative Parley for the Oceans to release the first performance shoe with an upper made from marine plastic waste and deep-sea gillnets (fishing nets that are hung vertically so that fish get trapped by their gills). Runners Need also operate a ‘Recycle my Run’ scheme, where your old trainers can be handed in and exchanged for £20 towards a brand new shiny pair of wheels. To clarify, that’s new trainers, not a new car.