Are Shoes Biodegradable?

If you were to multiply the shoes you own by the global population, you’d get why 24 billion pairs were manufactured in 2018. Unfortunately, residing in a consumerist world means the figures have only soared at an alarming rate.

Worse still, only a fraction of the manufactured shoes are recycled, leaving hundreds of millions indefinitely in the landfill. Although you might be wondering, ‘why don’t people donate or recycle?’ that’s a non-issue.

The problem is that most shoes are non-biodegradable. Now that you know the answer to the commonly asked question, ‘are shoes biodegradable?’ is no, read on to learn about how eco-friendly footwear can serve your feet and the planet you walk on.

Biodegradable Footwear

Rubber shoes are among the products that take the longest to decompose. Although leather footwear can take anywhere between 25 and 40 years, you may not realize that rubber shoe soles can last 50 to 80 years. Therefore, as tempting as it is to justify a purchase, the cost to buy non-biodegradable shoes far outweighs the perks.

The lifespan of well-worn footwear won’t last a quarter of the duration it takes for the decomposition. Granted, you might be thinking it’s the manufacturer’s fault and what you can do about it. However, you’d be right to question the level of control you truly have to which the answer is 100%.

Regarding purchasing biodegradable footwear, there are two parties involved: you and the shoemaker. Just because the shoe exists doesn’t mean you must purchase it. Therefore, you have the chance to be part of a conscious, global effort to diminish carbon emissions by shopping smarter.

How Is Biodegradability Defined In Shoemaking?

Among shoemakers, biodegradability usually comes to fruition as product craftsmanship. That means manufacturers proactively take responsibility for the environmental impact of their products. Every material that goes into the shoemaking process (regardless of the size of the components) is sustainably and ethically sourced.

Therefore, companies conduct a rigorous assessment of their compliance levels and environmental credentials, focusing on the biodegradability of the materials that go into the making process. The materials are ranked based on their ecological effect and the carbon footprint their industrial processes leave behind.

A wealth of footwear manufacturers has admitted that they’ve not been eco-friendly and biodegradable in that regard. Upcycling gets rid of water bottles from the landfill and converts them into yarn for shoemaking.

Makers of casual footwear and sportswear, particularly, have come under fire for this. Even in the ecologically informed era we live in, manufacturers still make the most of their athletic footwear and sneakers with a wealth of non-biodegradable plastics. Unfortunately, they also craft their shoes using techniques that leave a potentially destructive and massive carbon footprint.

Shoe Chemicals

  • Phthalates: Hazards for rubber and plastic footwear and are used to boost their flexibility.
  • Nickel: Used in metal accessories.
  • Chromium VI: A toxic tanning chemical that lurks in leather shoes across the globe.
  • Nitrosamines: Carcinogens used in leather footwear.
  • Polyvinylchloride (PVC), Diisononyl Adipate (DINA), and Acetyl Tributyl Citrate (ATBC): These are also known as plasticizers and contribute to the long lifespan of plastic shoes.

While it’s one thing to unethically use animal skins for shoes, using toxic chemicals to preserve them is a different ballgame. Like food, unrecognizable elements imply chemicals. Therefore, just as you wouldn’t want to ingest chemicals, the same applies to having them on your body.

Biodegradable Materials

Masterful brands and alluring marketing make shopping a mind game. But, given that facts and statistics are unavailable on shoeboxes, how can you confirm that your footwear is biodegradable?

While traditional shoes omit information on their manufacturing process, biodegradable shoes don’t. Therefore, when it comes to finding excellent quality footwear that’s also eco-friendly, keep an eye out for the following keywords.

  • Responsibly sourced
  • Organic and bio-based claims
  • Carbon neutral
  • Sustainably certified
  • Recycled materials
  • Eco-friendly
  • Vegan

From these traits, you’ll immediately know that none of the chemicals mentioned were used in the shoemaking process. The lack of information undoubtedly raises concerns. However, biodegradable shoe manufacturers will exhibit transparency.

They’ll want everyone to know who they are and how they make their shoes. Biodegradable shoes can be manufactured with any of the following eco-friendly materials.

  • Bamboo
  • Wool
  • Castor oil
  • Hemp
  • Cork
  • Linen
  • Organic cotton
  • Pineapple leaf fibers
  • Natural latex
  • Palm leaves
  • Silk

Coupled with non-toxic glues for manufacturing, biodegradable shoes are a game-changer, and are made of sustainable materials that are natural, sturdy, and durable.

Characteristics of Biodegradable Shoes

Characteristics of Biodegradable Shoes

Image Source: Pexels

Now that you know how footwear manufacturers practice biodegradability in their work, let’s discuss the factors that make shoes biodegradable.

80% of its materials should be extracted from renewable sources

Ideally, recycled rubber and plastic components, natural fabrics (linen and hemp), as is the case with espadrilles, and ethically sourced leather and wood are the perfect components for biodegradable and sustainable footwear.

Manufacturing a pair of footwear should result in a negligible carbon footprint

One of the crucial environmental problems that stem from shoemaking is that making one pair of sneakers leaves a considerable carbon footprint.

A study done by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) unveiled that manufactured synthetic fabrics and raw plastics producing one pair of basketball or running shoes produce up to 30 lbs of carbon dioxide, which is harmful to Mother Nature.

Consequentially, a wealth of shoemakers are trialing more environmentally friendly but equally efficient production processes at their factories to provide consumers with more sustainable fashion options.

The Techniques That Go Into Making Each Pair Should Be Ethical And Comply With Global Or Local Ecological Standards

These processes entail the mechanical aspect of manufacturing, treatment of workers throughout the production process, and selecting materials. In the last ten years, gut-wrenching stories about companies utilizing sweatshops in regions of South Asia and China fired up the imagination of the public.

They took down the wrath of welfare organizations and labor upon their brands. In a truly biodegradable footwear manufacturing enterprise, working environments are properly ventilated, lit, and clean. Concurrently, employees are treated with utmost dignity and respect. They also have a voice in the creative process and receive appropriate compensation.

What Should You Consider When It Comes biodegradable Shoes?

As with more conventionally manufactured footwear, comfort is one of the essential factors in selecting biodegradable footwear. When choosing versatile footwear such as a sneaker, running shoe, loafer, and driving shoe, wearing them without discomfort or pain is what lures customers into buying them.

When it comes to biodegradable footwear, below are the key factors to consider.


It’s one of the main considerations for shoe buyers. Granted, the shoes you bought from your preferred footwear brand are made of spun cloth coupled with recycled plastics. However, they’re not considered biodegradable after less than a few weeks of wear.

Sure, even with the risk of non-eco-compliant shopping, people will still purchase footwear that they’re certain will serve them well for years down the road. In that case, select well-made shoes from biodegradable-driven companies that can withstand the elements such as rain, snow, or heat.


You should also consider finding a shoe made with recycled material. Particularly those derived from renewable sources like vegan leather or other plant shoe options. Furthermore, most people are switching to vegan-friendly materials for an animal-friendly living.

Ethical Practices

These are now on most buyers’ pre-purchase checklists. After all, the last thing they need is the feelings of guilt, knowing that a person or animal suffered a considerable amount of pain for their shoes to be made.

Bio-Based Impact

The most ideal way to combat the projected production of 40 billion pairs of shoes by 2025 is with biodegradable footwear. Better than reducing the rate of shoe decomposition, biodegradable footwear is compostable, counteracting landfill pollution in the long run.

Benefits of Biodegradable Shoes

Let’s discuss the perks of switching from regular footwear to biodegradable shoes.

1. Eco-friendly

The recycled footwear is easily degradable and compostable. Although they are dumped in the landfill, they won’t harm the soil.

2. Durable

Biodegradable footwear is constructed from sustainable materials. They are made of to-grade and long-lasting products.

3. Comfortable

Eco-friendly footwear is more comfortable than normal footwear. There are no harmful substances or toxic chemicals used in the manufacturing process, which eliminates the likelihood of itchiness and discomfort from wearing the shoes for a long duration.


Do your best until you know better and when that happens, do better. It’s hard to continue buying non-sustainable, generic footwear when biodegradable options are waiting for you. After all, if you’re all about eco-friendliness, biodegradable shoes are how you can do better now that you know better.

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