Greener Sneakers

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According to the American Apparel and Footwear Association, Americans purchased two billion pairs of shoes last year, and Recyclebank (a company that promotes recycling through discounts and deals), reports that 300 million pairs are thrown into landfills each year. A high percentage of those shoes are likely the athletic kind. Sneaker-wearers are advised to retire their kicks every six months to prevent injury, which means the average athlete goes through at least two pairs of sneakers a year.

Shoes that are both stylish and eco-friendly are widely available, but the same can’t be said for sneakers. Traditional sneaker midsoles are often the least biodegradable part of a sneaker, lasting up to 1,000 years in a landfill. To minimize environmental impact, Heidi Harrison, an intern with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), advises people to choose running shoes “built with eco-friendly materials and fewer materials in general, such as ‘barefoot’ running shoes.”

When Done, Plant for Fun

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Instead of worrying about the landfill lifespan of a sneaker, choose a pair that can be returned right back to the earth. The founders of OAT Shoes follow this belief system: “We have to close the loop, come full circle and realize we’re an integral part of the whole thing.” Sneakers in OAT’s Virgin Collection II are made with natural materials such as hemp, bio-cotton, cork and certified biodegradable plastics. The sneakers are de-signd to biodegrade when planted. Once they have de-composed, a patch of wildflowers should bloom from their burial site thanks to seeds sewn into the sneaker’s tongue.

Light Support

For runners choosing to forgo the webbed-toe look but who still want the feel of barefoot shoes, kigo offers a stylish option. All kigo footwear is made from a combination of eco-friendly, post-consumer and recycled materials. The shoes are EPA-approved, water- and stain-resistant and, due to a removable insole, they are also anti-microbial. Each shoe weighs about five ounces, making kigo footwear a sleek, environmentally friendly choice that won’t leave the wearer looking like a frog.

A Classic Reinvented

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For the runner who prefers more support, Brooks PureProject Collection offers good looks, high athletic performance and freedom from the environmental impact of most athletic sneakers. In the place of slow-to-biodegrade midsoles, Brooks has the BioMoGo midsole, made with a nontoxic natural additive that encourages microbes to decompose the midsole 50 times faster than its traditional counterpart. And the lightweight, minimalist design helps runners run faster. It all comes packaged in a 100% recycled shoebox.

For the Artist

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The bright colors of ALIVESHOES turn heads, but there is more to these sneakers than flashy looks. The sneakers first enter the world as parts of art installations designed to “bring nature to life.” The installations are then dismantled and the sneakers become available for purchase, complete with an artist’s sketch of the installation on the inside of the sneaker’s tongue. Upon purchase, you can choose to donate extra money which will go to future installations and a handful of select charities. In addition to connecting consumers with artists, the sneakers also boast environmental cred. Using the technology of traditional Italian shoemakers, the shoes are handmade from sustainable materials such as organic cotton, leather and cork with a fully biodegradable sole.