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The Better Shoe Foundation, launched by ethically accredited Po-Zu, offers all sorts of interesting facts about the footwear industry. Ahead of the next major update to the ethical rankings for shoe and trainer brands, it is interesting to think about some of the current issues that face us and what types of ethical choices consumers can make.

For example, did you know that 24.3 billion pairs of shoes were produced worldwide in 2014? A single shoe can also contain up to 65 parts that require approximately 360 steps in the manufacturing process. Additionally, it has been suggested that waste from post-consumer shoes will reach 1.2 million tonnes, and less than 5% will be recycled.

There’s a general lack of recycling, with less than 5% of the world’s end-of-life shoes being recycled. [2] This is partly because of the materials used. Nike recognises the importance of material selection; Hannah Jones, their Chief Sustainability Officer says, “We know materials account for about 60% of the environmental footprint of a pair of Nike shoes.” [3]

Some materials don’t have the necessary recycling facilities in place. Leather is a popular material choice for shoes – “more than 60% of the UK shoe sales are leather-based shoes” [1] – and yet the recycling of leather from post-consumer shoes has not been commercially exploited. [1]

The Better Shoe Foundation offers all sorts of suggestions and possible solutions to help make the footwear industry more ethical and sustainable. One of the concepts is partly inspired by the incredible work currently being done in the material sciences as well as the emerging idea of the circular economy, in which manufactures need to start considering the “entire lifecycle of a pair of shoes […] from the design process all the way to post-consumption”.

In addition to sustainability issues, human rights concerns continue to mar the footwear industry. These concerns are reflected in how shoe and trainer brands currently rank on the ethical index, as discussed in our guide to ethical footwear. One can also find a lot of useful information through the Change Your Shoescampaign by Labour Behind the Label (see the video above). The campaign is calling for major UK brands to be more transparent about their supply chains (among other things).

Over at Po-Zu, a top ethical footwear brand, a wonderful infographic was published on their blog. It summarizes what is currently taking place in the footwear industry. In a time when sustainability and material has come into focus for many businesses and consumers, considering the numerous issues we currently face, it is staggering to think that approximately 38 million shoes will be sold in the UK in a single year. Of that 32 million, the estimated waste is 169, 000 tonnes.

For more information – and if you’re interested in ethical footwear – also check out our ethical guide and comparison rankings on the world’s shoe and trainer brands.

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