In the long list of everyday products that are getting a ‘green’ makeover, shoes are currently a hot topic in the fashion world. You can now minimize your carbon footprint with your literal footprints wearing shoes made from eco-friendly materials.

The top six most eco-friendly materials for shoes include recycled tires, pineapple, bamboo, cork, organic cotton, and recycled plastic. All of which offer a more efficient solution to leather, suede, and plastics which have large resource-intensive production methods.

New eco-friendly materials are breathing new life and innovation into the shoe industry. Below you can see why these eco-friendly materials have become so popular.

6 Most Eco-Friendly Materials for Shoes

1. Recycled Tires

As you can imagine, the amount of rubber needed to fulfill the demand for the soles of shoes is extremely high throughout the world. Therefore, it only makes sense that companies like Timberland, SoleRebels, and Indosole are upcycling old rubber tires for the soles on their new footwear.

We need to find new ways of reusing old car tires and shoes seems to be one great way to do just that. In the USA alone, 300 million tires wear out and are disposed of each year. Thankfully, due to some fantastic initiatives over the last 25 years, the EPA report that 80% of all tires disposed of are now recycled. 

Shoe companies such as Timberland have been using recycled tires for their boots since 2008 but it’s only now in 2020 that there is a serious focus on using recycled rubber for all shoes. The recent focus on climate change has sparked a huge increase in the number of shoemakers using eco-friendly materials

California based shoemakers, Indosole, are one of the most successful eco-friendly shoe companies. Indosole uses the car tire sidewall to create their soles as well as the inner tube which they turn into straps and toe caps.

2. Pineapple

Probably one of the hottest news stories in vegan fashion last year was the introduction of pineapple leather. Dutch footwear brand, Mercer Amsterdam, made all the headlines when they released a range of footwear using the innovative patented material Piñatex.

Piñatex is being used by the Dutch footwear company as a vegan alternative to leather. The natural pineapple fibers have proven to help regulate the temperature inside your shoe reducing foot sweating.

The brand says the eco-friendly shoes are “made in collaboration with Piñatex, a leather alternative made from the leaves of the pineapple plant, a natural and sustainably-sourced, cruelty-free material.”

The pineapple leaves used to create the shoes are the by-product of harvesting pineapples to be sold in supermarkets. Mercer Amsterdam has successfully created a new eco-friendly material from something that would normally end up rotting away or being dumped in landfills.

Not only are the shoes better for the environment but the pineapple leaves used are brought from local pineapple farmers in the Philippines helping to support local economies and strengthening the country’s exports. The tanning of the pineapple leather also uses significantly less water, produces less waste, and contains no harmful chemicals or animal ingredients.

It’s no wonder that pineapple leather is now being used by many other eco-friendly footwear companies.

3. Bamboo

Bamboo continues to prove itself as one of the most versatile, useful, and eco-friendly materials in the world. Everything has been given a bamboo makeover in the last few years from bedsheets, bowls, and cups, to curtains.

Now, we have bamboo shoes being made by an increasing number of footwear brands. Bamboo is a highly efficient material that requires a lot fewer resources to produce than traditional materials such as leather, suede, and cotton.

Companies such as Cariuma have created wonderful shoes mostly made of bamboo and recycled plastic. The production method used by Cariuma does not involve any harsh or toxic chemicals like some other bamboo manufacturers. Instead, they heat the bamboo fibers to create powdered charcoal which is then mixed with recycled PET plastic to create a special yarn that can make shoes.

Cariuma has also silenced eco-friendly material critics by creating bamboo shoes that are ultra-durable and will last for years to come.

4. Cork

Cork has established itself as one of the most eco-friendly building materials in the world. It is now being used in the building of homes for flooring, rigid insulation, exterior finish, floor underlayment, acoustic wall coverings, and countertops.

Now, cork is set to take on the world of shoes too. It would appear that cork is the perfect material for shoes as it’s lightweight, elastic and flexible. It’s also very environmentally friendly compared to its alternatives.

Cork is extracted from trees without harming them every 9 years and it’s a 100% renewable material. Nike is currently experimenting with cork for its line of eco-friendly shoes and the special orthopedic company, Sole, has been able to create wonderful shoes from the material.

Using cork also helps to support cork forests which are some of the most sustainable forests on the planet. Not only can you harvest the trees every 9 years for cork, but they can live to 200 years old!

5. Organic Cotton

Cotton is one of the most used materials on the planet but its production is far from clean or efficient. Organic cotton has therefore taken a more prominent role in fashion over the last decade.

Organic cotton requires that the production method involves no pesticides, fertilizers or toxic chemicals. This allows cotton farms to remain sustainable, maintaining soil fertility, and allowing the harvest of chemical-free cotton.

The production of organic cotton requires much less C02 to produce due to smaller amounts of fuel and energy required to farm the material. The lack of chemicals allows for a more natural farming method, avoids any risk to workers or local wildlife.

Companies such as Rawanique have had huge success creating handmade organic cotton shoes that are naturally hypoallergenic, dust mite resistant and durable.

6. Recycled Plastic

Throughout 2019 there was an increasing number of news stories detailing the plastic pollution crisis. Videos from Bali in Indonesia showed a beautiful ocean with more plastic floating around than fish and more people learned about The Great Pacific Garbage Patch (GPGP) which is mostly made up of disused plastic.

One of the best initiatives we can do to help the plastic pollution is to reuse and recycle plastic as much as possible. Shoemakers have quickly realized they could now make eco-friendly and stylish shoes with plastic waste.

One company that has seen huge success with its plastic shoes is San Francisco based company, Rothy’s. Their flats have become very popular in the USA amongst female office workers providing them with an eco-friendly and ultra-comfortable pair of shoes.

The upper knits of Rothy’s shoes are made from 100% recycled plastic bottles. The bottles are hot washed, sterilized and then fused together into a fiber that can be weaved like yarn.

According to National Geographic, there are over 6 billion metric tons of plastic waste in the world that can be repurposed. Using recycled plastic helps reduce the energy required to produce new materials while simultaneously helping clean up the planet.

Final Thoughts

We live in one of the most interesting times in human history. Due to our own environmental mistakes and negligence, we are being forced to create and innovate using new materials that are better for our environment. The result of this innovation is fascinating new products made from natural or recycled materials that are seriously helping to reduce our negative impact upon our planet.

The huge progress made by companies using eco-friendly materials is helping to transform the manufacturing world for the better. Now, some of the biggest shoe companies in the world including Nike, Reebok, and Adidas are all producing more and more footwear made with these eco-friendly materials.