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  • Writer's pictureMichelle Johnson

Sustainable Shoes: How New Technologies Are Revolutionizing Sneaker Soles

Woman running in forest

Gone are the days when your shoes only left footprints. Imagine regular walks or jogs actually nourishing the environment with each step. This is not the plot of a science fiction movie; it's on the horizon thanks to advancements in eco-friendly footwear.

Innovative technologies are making this a reality by transforming traditionally non-recyclable sneaker soles. Traditional soles are crafted from polluting plastics, but new solutions promise 100% sustainable shoes that not only biodegrade but potentially even contribute nutrients back to the earth.

More than 24 billion pairs of shoes were produced in 2022, each containing a mix of plastics and synthetic rubber. It's easy to imagine the vast amount of plastic entering landfills and the environment each year, from discarded shoes alone. Traditionally used materials like rubber take hundreds of years to decompose. Plus, microplastics from synthetic materials can make their way into the food chain.

While major shoe companies deserve credit for their growing use of sustainable materials, the journey towards truly eco-friendly footwear is complex. A typical sneaker boasts numerous components, often exceeding 100 individual parts, assembled through a multi-step process. Many of these elements are recyclable, but separating them for proper recycling remains a significant challenge. Disassembling a shoe is a painstaking task, rendering traditional recycling impractical.

This is where the exciting world of new sole technologies comes in. Here's a deeper dive into some of the advancements paving the way for a greener sneaker future:

  • Biodegradable Materials: Companies are pioneering the use of natural, earth-friendly components like algae, cork, and even mushrooms! These innovative materials decompose naturally at the end of a shoe's lifespan, eliminating harmful waste from landfills.

  • Self-Repairing Soles: Imagine shoes that heal themselves! Scientists are developing soles that incorporate self-healing polymers, extending the lifespan of your kicks and reducing overall waste.

  • 3D Printing for Customization: 3D printing technology is revolutionizing the footwear industry, allowing for the creation of custom soles using recyclable materials. This reduces excess production and ensures a perfect fit, further minimizing waste.

These advancements represent a significant step towards a more sustainable sneaker industry. However, challenges remain. Biodegradable materials might not yet offer the same level of performance as traditional options, and the scalability of these new technologies is still under development.

Despite these hurdles, the future of sneakers looks bright. By embracing these innovations and fostering collaboration between scientists, manufacturers, and consumers, we can move towards a world where our love for sneakers goes hand-in-hand with a love for our planet.

Check out these companies working to create or currently selling shoes with more sustainable soles right now:



This sustainable materials company was started by two fashion design students who make soles out of seaweed.


Native currently has a line of slip-ons made from algae-based material.  


A streetwear company in Portland, Oregon, launched a shoe made entirely of biodegradable materials.


Founded by Thomas Bogle, Solum partners with farmers across the country to  grow materials for the company’s plant-based soles (made of beeswax, vegetable oils, and other plant byproducts). Ponto, a footwear brand based in San Deigo, will launch a shoe using Solum's outsole by the end of 2024.



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1 Comment

Ruby Anderson Henley
Apr 09

This new technology is a major step toward helping to save the plant. It also helps farmers and non- traditional industries since they will produce the materials used in the sustainable sneakers. A very smart idea.

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