As we seek to find ways to live greener lives, it is time to look at the flip flop sandal. They are incredibly prevalent and as a result have a significant impact on the planet, especially when it comes to plastic pollution! But, there is some progress being made.
While sandals have been around for thousands of years and are thought to have originated as early as 1,500 B.C. in ancient Egypt, the popular flip flop sandal became widely recognized in the United States after World War II. American soldiers brought home the Japanese zori, a type of sandal which inspired the plastic flip flops we are familiar with today.
It is easy to understand why flip flops have become so widespread and beloved by women, men and kids. They are lightweight, inexpensive, often waterproof, and come in a variety of fun colours and designs. This makes them the perfect footwear for warm weather or a day at the beach! Most people have a pair or two in their closets.
These sandals may be a convenient and practical footwear choice for a warm summer day, but they are considered essential in less economically developed countries where flip flops are the only type of shoe that many can afford. As a result, flip flops are one of the most popular types of shoes around the globe.
Environmental impact of flip flops
Unfortunately, flip flops have a negative impact on the environment. Let’s face it, plastic flip flops aren’t the most durable footwear. In most cases, flip flops will show significant wear and tear by the end of the summer (if they’re not completely broken!)
Due to the fact that flip flops are made out of plastic foam, they aren’t repairable or durable. And because they are so inexpensive this allows people to throw out and replace their flip flops repeatedly.
This results in flip flops making up a significant percentage of the plastic waste that ends up in landfills and as litter on land and in the ocean. The issue with plastic in the landfill is that it takes hundreds of years to break down. Once plastic items finally do break down in the environment, instead of decomposing, they turn into microplastics that get ingested by wildlife.
Flip flops that end up in the ocean and washing up on shores around the world harm marine life as well. Fish and other marine animals can swallow whole shoes or the broken-down pieces of microplastics, causing them to suffocate, starve, and drown.
The toxic chemicals used to produce plastic flip flops are also able to leach out into water and soil, effectively harming and killing wild and marine life.
It is clear that the standard plastic flip flop needs to be replaced by more sustainable footwear.
The solution: eco-friendly flip flops
Luckily, researchers and designers have been working to develop an eco-friendly version of the well-loved plastic flip flop!
Biodegradable flip flops
Flip flops can be made more environmentally friendly by reducing the amount of non-renewable plastic used within the shoe. Researchers at the University of California, San Diego have developed a biodegradable flip flop sandal using algae.
Oil extracted from algae was used as the basis for a polyurethane foam, allowing the foam to lose 71% of its mass after being buried in soil for two weeks.
The shoes, however, are not 100% biodegradable as they still rely on petroleum. Stephen Mayfield, a microbiologist at UCSD, states that the goal is to eventually develop a shoe that is made of 100% bio content.
Flip flops can also be made with natural materials instead of plastic. For example, Rainbow Sandals is a brand that creates flip flops made out of 100% natural hemp fibre.
Hemp is a plant that is very easy to grow and won’t end up in the landfill! As an added bonus, these flip flops are designed to ensure you get the proper arch support for your feet.
Planet Flops are another footwear brand that uses natural materials. These flip flops, which look almost exactly like plastic flip flops, are made from natural rubber.
Natural rubber comes from the rubber tree (Hevea brasiliensis) and is harvested by tapping into the tree in order to remove a milky sap from the bark. This method of harvesting does not harm the tree in any way.
The fun thing about these flip flops is that they come in a wide range of colours, designs and styles. But of course, they still should be disposed of properly.
Recycled Flip Flops
Flip flops may also become more sustainable by including recycled content in their design. Indosoles is a certified B Corporation that uses old tires to construct their flip flops. Instead of letting waste tires sit in stockyards or illegal dumping sites, they are given a new life as highly durable sandals!
Another form of recycling is also important when it comes to addressing the issue of plastic flip flops. While it is all well and good to create new, environmentally friendly flip flops, something needs to be done with the plastic ones that are already in existence.
Ocean Sole is a company based in Kenya that uses discarded flip flops to create art and other products. Julie Church is a marine conservationist that convinced locals to collect discarded flip flops that are prevalent on the beaches of Kenya and repurpose them into products and art pieces that can be sold for profit.
The unique art sculptures created by Ocean Sole depict different animals and are made by compressing old flip flops together and carving them into beautiful and colourful art. These sculptures are displayed in a variety of locations around the world including museums in Sweden and the London Zoo.
Most importantly, we need to rethink our routine purchases and consider not just what we can afford but what are the impacts of these products on the planet and people!
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