Toxic Shoes and the Natural Alternatives
The fashion industry has come under scrutiny recently for its ethics and impact on the environment leading to a surge in eco fashion and ethical labels. Shoes are not something that people always consider when it comes to eco fashion. They may be only a small part of a whole outfit but they are a very important part and their manufacture can have just as many ethical and environmental implications as clothes.
Recently the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation issued warnings about the high levels of toxins in plastic shoes including flip flops, clogs and sandals from a number of countries including the Philippines, advising that the high levels present were injurious to human health and the environment. The tests which were carried out in cooperation with the EcoWaste Coalition and partner groups in India, Indonesia, South Africa, Tanzania and Uganda found 17 of the 27 pairs of plastic shoes tested positive for phthalates which are associated with developmental and reproductive disorders, including incomplete testicular growth and decreased fertility in men. One particular Phthalate, DEHP is able to cause impaired fertility and harm to the unborn child. The shoes also tested positive for varying levels of heavy metals, many of which damaging to endocrine, nervous and reproductive systems, are carcinogenic and allergenic, and highly toxic to aquatic organisms.
Even supposedly safe plastic shoes that do not contain phthalates or heavy metals are made using petro chemicals, a non renewable resource and undoubtedly cause some sort of pollution and significant carbon dioxide emissions in their production.
Whilst many people might consider leather shoes, a natural and eco friendly alternative to plastic and synthetic shoes, they too have their own significant environmental impacts. The raising of the live stock where the leather comes from is in itself damaging for the environment as it causes high levels of carbon dioxide emissions. Whilst quite a lot of leather is a by product of meat, the income from the leather effects the cost of meat and therefore the supply and demand. Tanneries, where leather is produced, use a cocktail of potent chemicals including lead, zinc, formaldehyde, dyes and cyanide-based chemicals to remove the flesh from the skin and stabilise the structure of the leather.
Not only are toxic chemicals in shoes potentially harmful to the environment and the people who wear them but especially to the workers who make them. In China Benzene is sometimes used to glue shoes together. Whilst it is banned in other countries Benzene is used in China because it is cheaper than other glues. Workers in the Bishwan district where much of the shoe industry is concentrated, commonly suffer from severe anemia caused by the benzene. The benzene damages the bone marrow and it takes months to recover.
Workers in tanneries in the Hazarabagh area of India, where there are 185 leather processing industries are continuously exposed to dangerous chemicals often without any protective clothing or even shoes. Factories have high walls and very little ventilation, the suffocating heat, fumes and odour of chemicals make them very unpleasant places to work. Skin diseases lung damage, respiratory illness, asthma and bronchitis, diarrhea, digestive complaints and eyes damage just some of the medical complaints that commonly affect the workers. They also work long hours for very little pay.
Urban dwellers living in the are of Hazarabagh are also at risk from the toxic pollution caused by the leather industry. The tanneries discharge 21,600 square meters of liquid wastes everyday containing chromium, lead, sulphur, ammonium, salt and other materials which severely pollutes the river Buriganga. The industry also produces 150 metric tons of solid waste every day which also contaminates the environment and water. There is also severe air pollution caused by the cooking of skins and hides to obtain glue for the local industry.
There are a number of possible alternatives to conventional leather and plastic shoes. Whilst not ideal, shoes made from eco friendly and ethical leather are a better option than conventional leather. They are biodegradable and tanned with vegetable tans which are kinder to both the environment and the workers that make the leather. Other eco friendly and ethical alternatives include shoes made from organic hemp, organic cotton, latex, wool, cork and recycled materials.
Po-Zu aims to set new standards in ethical and ecological footwear manufacture with its range of vegan shoes and natural footwear that are healthy for your feet, safe for all the workers throughout the supply chain, and kind to the environment.