Cute Shoes Made from Recycled Plastic!

June 20, 2019

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Okay first let me start off this post by saying MY HUSBAND TOOK THESE PHOTOS. After three years of blogging ladies, he is finally coming around. I wouldn’t say he is at full Instagram Husband status yet but one in training? Maybe!

Last weekend we celebrated our 10 year wedding anniversary at The Gasparilla in on Boca Grande and this outfit totally fit the bill. I mean is there anything better than wearing all white in the summer!?

girl wearing a white shirt and white skirt and yellow shoes in front of a souther plantation

No. There really isn’t.

Shoes made from recycled plastic

The concept of up-cycling plastic into shoes is fairly new. I saw it first with Rothy’s a few years ago and I’ve been kind of obsessed ever since. Plastic is slowly killing our planet and I think one innovative solution to cleaning up the waste is reusing it to make shoes.

How can plastic be a fabric???

This was my first question because I’m like REALLY THOUGH?! This infographic at Textile Today creates an easy to digest explanation:

infographic with real life photos on how rPET is made

The PET bottle was patented in 1973 by Nathaniel Wyeth and began to be used popularly for the production of disposable soft drink bottles in the 1980s. Although personally I don’t think it really took off until the 90’s when buying bottled water became a craze. I specifically remember being on my collage campus, holding a bottle of Dasani thinking “How did I ever live without this!?”

Today, there are basically two types of PET; bottle-grade PET and fiber-grade PET. When PET (polyethylene terephthalate) is used for bottles, containers and other applications, it is called PET or PET resin. When PET is used as a fiber, it is typically called polyester.

Polyester can be made using virgin plastic (PET) or recycled plastic (rPET).

Besides shoes, you may also see (rPET) used to make:

  • Carpet
  • Clothes
  • Underware
  • Shoes
  • Luggage
  • Upholstery
  • Filler for sleeping bags and winter coats
  • Automotive parts
  • New PET containers

Comparatively speaking, PET is exceptionally easy to recycle. Approximately 1.5 billion pounds of used PET bottles and containers are recovered in the U.S. each year for recycling, making it the most recycled plastic in America.

The lifecycle of PET

Okay, let’s break it down. There are two ways PET can be recycled: chemically or mechanically. Chemical recycling breaks down the plastic and reforms it to be just as strong as the original however it’s a more expensive process. Mechanical recycling uses heat and is cheaper but it degrades the plastic each time it is recycled due to the introduction of contaminants like coloring and PVC from labels, water, residue from consumer use like detergents, fuel, pesticides etc. O Ecotextiles breaks down the PET life cycle via mechanical recycling below which I thought was pretty interesting.

  • Virgin PET can be made into soda or milk bottles
  • Which are collected and recycled into resins
  • Which are appropriate to make into toys, carpet, filler for pillows, CD cases, plastic lumber products, fibers or a million other products.
  • These second generation plastics can then be recycled a second time into park benches, carpet, speed bumps or other products with very low value.
  • The cycle is completed when the plastic is no longer stable enough to be used for any product, so it is sent to the landfill.
  • Where it is incinerated…
  • Or where it will hold space for many years…or become part of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

Pros + Cons of using recycled plastic in shoes and textiles

The big picture argument here is using recycled plastic to make textiles, rugs, furniture and toys isn’t technically solving the plastic problem. These items will eventually end up in a landfill when the material is no longer needed or able to be recycled. This is especially true if companies are manufacturing using new or virgin PET to make textiles and the like.

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The only real way to solve this problem is to reduce or dare I say, stop making single use plastic items. When push comes to shove, this is a material we can technically live without.

However, we currently have a huge plastic problem. The Ocean Conservatory explains, “Each year, an estimated eight million metric tons of plastic flows into the ocean. That’s an entire dump truck of plastic emptying into the ocean every single minute of every single day, 365 days a year—that’s not sustainable for people, the planet or our ocean.”

And not to veer too far off topic but these plastics are being eaten by fish who are being eaten by us which we now know for a fact after microplastics were discovered in human stool in late 2018.

Do we need a better long-term plan? Yes. Is recycling plastic bottles from our oceans to make shoes an innovative way to clean up the mess we have already made? I say yes.

Here are some additional things to consider. This list of pros and cons is a summary from this O Ecotextiles article:

Pros:

  • The energy needed to make rPET is less than what is needed to make virgin polyester.
  • We are keeping bottles and other plastics out of landfills.
  • The process of making rPET fiber releases less CO2 emissions than making virgin polyester.

Cons:

  • Making rPET uses more energy than using organically produced natural fibers.
  • rPET can be made from post consumer (bottles) or post industrial (unused packaging in a manufacturing plant).
  • Each time plastic is reheated, it degenerates and must be used to make a lower quality product.
  • Base colors of polyester chips vary which may require chlorine-based bleaches to whiten the product.
  • PVC and other contaminants may be introduced via unremoved bottle labels and wrappers.
  • And maybe the most concerning of all: antimony, which is present in 80 – 85% of all virgin PET, is converted to antimony trioxide at high temperatures – such as are necessary during recycling, releasing this possible carcinogen from the polymer and making it available for intake into living systems.
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Alden Wicker of EcoCult – a blog all about sustainable fashion – shares her personal hierarchy of material in terms of sustainability here. You can see she ranks 100% recycled polyester (made from recycled PET bottles) at #3 – just below 100% natural fibers (#2) and 100% organic natural fibers (#1).

Alden also notes that buying 100% recycled polyester in stead of a blend is impactful because there are options to recycle pure polyester while blended fibers are either trashed or downcycled.

Some things to consider…

I personally think using rPET as a material to make shoes is a sustainable option – with the good outweighing the bad if it’s done right. These are some sustainability questions I am keeping in mind when buying:

  • Is the material 100% rPET or a blend?
  • Is the material post consumer (recycling single use water bottles for example) rPET or post industrial rPET (recycling unused new plastics)?
  • Has the final product been tested for antimony trioxide? I’ve sent this questions to a few companies and I haven’t heard back so I’m not sure how viable this question is but I will keep asking!
  • Does the company offer a “take back” program where they offer to recycle old product into new?

Show us some shoes made with RPET!

So I’m taking it to the next level here and detailing out a few options for shoes made with recycled plastic. I’ll be adding to this post with additional shoes I try so stay tuned. Also, if there is a brand you would like to see here, comment below!

Everlane Day Glove ReKnit Flat

Each Day Glove ReKnit is made with 8 recycled plastic bottles. Everlane as a brand is currently replacing all synthetic fabrics with renewed materials and has made a public commitment to “no new plastic” in their supply chain by 2021.

yellow woven ethical flat shoes made with 8 plastic water bottles

I usually take a size 11 and ordered a size 11 here. First impressions were – Oh no, these are too small. BUT then I wore them around the house for a bit and realized no, they aren’t too small, they actually fit LIKE A GLOVE. The upper is a breathable knit made from a 88% Recycled Polyester, 10% Nylon, 2% Elastane blend and they have a thick, fabric feel. Light, breathable and comfy.

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stock photo of recycled polyester Day Glove ReKint flat shoes from Everlane
Everlane Day Glove ReKint

There is no real structure to the shoe so they really just mold to your foot shape. This is incredible because for someone who was blessed with bunions and large feet (how sexy is this paragraph so far!?) – fit always seems to be the first thing I compromise. Well, no more!

But not only are they comfy, they look cute too. I have been loving these with a long dress, short skirt, shorts, skinnies…I mean they pretty much go with anything. I personally love this shoe in yellow but they also comes in red, black, white and pink.

The next test will come when I need to spot clean them…

I would recommend these to anyone who is looking for something comfy and versatile. Try the Day Glove ReKnit here!

Rothy’s

In three years, Rothy’s has taken over 30 million plastic bottles destined for landfills and repurposed them into timeless, durable flats.

top down selfie of a black t-shirt, white shorts and rothy's animal print recycled plastic shoes

I mean HELLO. They had me at 30 million and they had me at FLATS!

Rothy’s is the mecca for shoes made with recycled plastic when it comes to options for styles, colors and sizes. They knit on demand so your shoe is made when you order it meaning there is no crazy overhead and virtually no production waste. Rothy’s head quarters is in San Francisco and they also own their own factory in Dongguan, China. This means they are hands-on during the manufacturing process from start to finish.

That’s right, I just said “knit on demand”. Rothy’s uses a 3D knitting machine to construct a seamless knit shoe. And just when you thought it couldn’t get any better, let me continue. The outsoles are made from nontoxic rubber and do not contain any carbon. They also package and ship their shoes in a recycled cardboard shoebox. AND Rothy’s uppers and insoles are both made using 100% recycled fibers so thier shoes are recyclable at the end of their lifespan.

I tried two styles. The Loafer and The Point. Like I mentioned, I have been blessed with wide feet and bunions…..and no matter what size I tried, The Point was a no-go for me but maybe perfect for someone with narrower feet.

brown flat cheetah print shoe made from recycled plastic water bottles
Rothy’s The Loafer

I did however love The Loafer. I am usually a size 11 and I had to size up to an 11.5 (a 12 was too big) so I would recommend sizing up a half size. Super comfy right out of the box and again, incredibly versatile.

For cleaning, Rothy’s recommends tossing these in the washing machine and laying flat to dry. (I haven’t tried this yet).

These are great for someone who values a low maintenance lifestyle but also wants to look super cute.

What shoes do you want to see here next?

Xo, lisa
girl walking down steps holding a pair of recycled plastic shoes

By Lisa

Lisa is the founder of This Organic Girl. Passionate about clean beauty, organic eats and nontoxic lifestyle, Lisa writes to create awareness. Conscious consumerism and informed decisions will impact the marketplace, our health and THE WORLD!