Second-Life Sandals Summer's Must-Have Eco-Sandals, Recycled Content Included

Summer means bare feet, or if you must wear shoes, bare toes. But many of the cheap flip-flops and sandals we slip on and kick off create excess waste in production or in landfills, or use animal products and toxic glues. To keep tootsies cool and eco-friendly, E has found the summer sandals—from strappy wedges to flip-flops—that reuse, reduce and recycle instead.

Materials Matter

Simple Shoes crafts their strappy, gladiator-style Teetoe sandal with cork, natural latex, reused car tire (for soles) and hemp or organic cotton straps. “Six pairs of soles can come out of a single car tire,” says spokesperson Molly Gilbert.

Their recycled PET Flippee uses recycled soda bottles with either nubuck straps or striped webbing made from recycled PET. Both Flippees and Teetoes are made with water-based glue. The recycled and natural rubber sole of the Flippee is biodegradable, according to Gilbert, because of the additive Eco-Pure.

From top to bottom: Terra Plana Dopie, Reef NWS, Simple Shoes Flippee, Splaff Flopps

“Normal shoe soles can take 1,000 years to degrade in landfills, but the sole of this shoe will biodegrade in about 20 years,” she says.

In similar fashion, Rafters Tsunami PET flip-flops use recycled bottles in the strap webbing; and outsoles contain 25% recycled rubber. The soles of Splaff Flopps are cut from recycled race car tires and the strap is fashioned from a recycled bicycle inner tube lined with natural hemp fabric; the foot bed is made from 100% recycled rubber and foam.

Waste Not

The idea behind Terra Plana’s Dopie sandal is a single-mold design, which minimizes waste during production. From the bottom, the shape suggests a cloven hoof; from the top, there’s a single, optional Velcro strap. A toe divider that curves up between the big and next-to-biggest toes holds the foot in place. The company calls them “naked shoes,” since they’re as close to going shoeless as it gets. And the shoes make environmental sense, too.

“A lot of times shoe construction uses a lot of materials in a wasteful production line, creating a lot of scraps and unused bits,” says spokesperson Sabra Ellingson. “If we don’t have any scraps on the assembly line, that cuts what is going into landfills.” Dopies use only a handful of components: rubber, water-based adhesives, stitching thread and Velcro.

Likewise, REEF’s beach-ready NWS flip-flops use a special design in which more shoes can be cut from one piece of material. This flip-flop also uses recycled PET for the toe post webbing and stitching, a water-based adhesive, 51% post-industrial recycled rubber in the mid-sole and 30% recycled content in the outsole.

Sandals on a Mission

Other sandals allow you to help others and be environmentally friendly: Ecosandals is owned and operated by Kenyans who live in the shantytown community of Korogocho, Kenya. “The shareholders are among the poorest residents on Earth,” says CEO and cofounder Matthew Meyer. The business provides jobs and living wages to villagers who design, make and sell the sandals, which come in about a dozen different styles that include recycled denim, recycled African military uniforms and other reclaimed resources. “Every pair is made with recycled tire soles,” Meyer says. “They use tires from the side of the road or nearby dumping grounds, so it’s created a market for used tires.” On average, one large truck tire yields enough soles for about 30 sandals. And everything used to make the shoes—including the leather and suede—is purchased locally.

Where They End Up

When typical shoes break down in landfills, their toxic glue leaches into the water supply and atmosphere, according to Soles4Souls, a nonprofit that collects gently worn shoes, cleans them and sends them to people in need, such as communities reeling from the aftermath of natural disasters. Unfortunately, most sandals can’t be recycled. Last year, Americans discarded more than 300 million pairs of shoes, according to the organization.

CARRIE MADREN is an environmental journalist based in Maryland.