How Shoe Brands Are Combatting Plastic Pollution

Many shoe brands are stepping up—pun intended—to fashionably and sustainably fight plastic pollution.

Jamie Mellor

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According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), Latin America is the fourth largest plastic waste producer worldwide. And, of the waste produced globally, the fashion industry is a huge offender responsible for 34.8% of all microplastic pollution.

In response to these alarming figures, many shoe brands are stepping up—pun intended—to fashionably and sustainably fight plastic pollution. Whether through recycling, veganism, or supporting eco-friendly causes, these leading shoe producers should be on your sustainable fashion radar.


One of the biggest names in shoes, Nike has shared its vision for a circular future in which “the very concept of waste doesn’t even exist.” Aiming for zero waste, Nike’s strategy for reducing waste begins with them designing products out of their own waste. Using their Materials Sustainability Index (MSI), Footwear Sustainability Index (FSI), and Apparel Sustainability Index (ASI), the materials, processes, and design are scored to provide an environmental profile. This is then used by product creation teams to improve the sustainability of the design and development.

One such shoe line born from this commitment is the Nike Space Hippie. Made with 50% recycled materials, the Space Waste Yarn upper includes almost 90% recycled polyester made from recycled plastic bottles, t-shirts, and yarn scraps. The latest colorway of the Nike Space Hippie 01 in Carbon Green is actually set to drop soon, giving eco-conscious sneakerheads something to look forward to. In the meantime, Nike continues their project of diverting billions of plastic bottles away from waste streams so they can be used again.


The German footwear behemoth, Adidas, has been an avid supporter of sustainable fashion since 2015. In partnership with Parley for the Oceans—an organization that addresses plastic waste and ocean pollution—Adidas has produced an entire line of clothing and footwear. Recycled plastic waste is used to redesign the knitted uppers and stitching, while the outsoles are made from recycled and re-ground rubber. Each pair of the Ultraboost Uncaged Parley models are made from 11 plastic recycled bottles, with a 3D printer used to design the entire shoe. Also in support of Parley for the Oceans, Adidas has raised more than $1.5 million with its #RunForTheOceans challenge.

Aside from these, Adidas has also released the iconic Stan Smith with upper made from 50% recycled content. Next up for the manufacturer is the release of their Futurecraft.Footprint running shoes this fall. Made in partnership with Allbirds, these shoes are lightweight, made of 70% recycled textile, and have be able to lessen the energy-intensive dyeing process.

Read also: Everything you need to know about the different types of recycling



An athleisure staple, Sperry footwear announced their #KickOutPlastic campaign in 2020. This initiative is done in partnership with the Waterkeeper Alliance to combat ocean plastic, build mainstream awareness, and share sustainable solutions for merchants, producers, and consumers. For every share of the campaign hashtag, Sperry has pledged to donate $25, with a cap of $75,000.

Prior to this, Sperry released their Bionic Shoe Collection in 2019, with each pair woven from recycled plastic bottles. Featuring some of this classic brand’s most popular silhouettes—like their Authentic Original boat shoe, Crest Vibe sneakers, and Captain’s CVO—each pair retains Sperry’s signature nautical accents. Even the packaging for this line is eco-friendly, being made from 100% recycled paper, vegetable ink, and water-based glue.



With their longstanding romance with the ocean, it’s no surprise that Brazil has also made strides against plastic pollution. To be released just this year, the sustainable Brazilian footwear manufacturer Cariuma has created a line of “ocean-friendly” kicks. The textiles of each pair are made from repurposed plastic waste collected from the ocean, with other notable materials being sugarcane, coke, and mamona oil.

Available in two models, the Cariuma brand promises that these shoes are 100% vegan and leave a smaller environmental footprint. Currently, these sneakers are touted as the most sustainable as each pair emits three times less emissions than the market average. In partnership with the 4ocean organization, the company has also pledged to remove two pounds of ocean and river trash with every purchase.

While there is still much to be done to clean up our oceans, these brands are setting the pace for a more accountable and sustainable fashion future.