Making products out of recycled plastics is amazing and it still blows my mind how plastic can be turned into fabric.
So when Clearwaters footwear got in touch to show me how they are tackling ocean and landfill waste by turning plastics into shoes, I couldn’t wait to find out more.
I talked to Clearwaters co-founder Sean Evans to find out exactly how plastic is recycled into their gorgeous, cosy slippers and what more we can do to make recycling plastics a mainstream thing that we can all benefit from.
You can also check out more of the Clearwaters story on the brand’s Kickstarter crowdfunding page where the team has already smashed their target but you can still pick up a pair of Clearwaters mule style slippers with an organic cotton shoe bag for just £29. Amazing!
Here are 9 things you need to know about making shoes from plastic waste
1. ‘Sustainability needs to be accessible. I remember asking my future business partner, why is every sustainable option so much more expensive? We realised it doesn’t have to be that way and we set out to make a sustainable footwear brand that is actually accessible to all.’
2. ‘Plastic for our shoes is collected from around the world. We use waste from coastal areas from Europe and Asia and it’s then shipped to a supplier where it is upcycled and reworked into yarn that’s used to create the shoes.’
3. ‘We partner with organisations such as Plastic Bank to collect the waste. Teams of local collectors receive a premium for the materials they collect, which helps them provide groceries, school tuition and health insurance for their families.’
4. ‘We use up to five recycled plastic bottles per slipper. We also work with suppliers who are using ‘post consumer’ plastic only. There’s still a lot of greenwashing going on with companies using ‘virgin plastic’, which is compounding the problem of creating more plastic from petrochemical feed-stock.’
5. ‘The price for recycled plastic has gone up. Raw recycled plastic used to be cheaper than virgin plastic but not any more. Demand for recycled plastic has increased and so has the price.’
6. ‘There’s not enough recycled plastic to meet the global demand. S&P Global Platts Analytics estimates that in 2020 recycled plastic meets about 8% of the global virgin plastic demand. Collection rates and quality will remain the key supply constraints.’
7. ‘Affordable supply will come down to logistics. Can countries develop their recycling technologies, can local governments create effective plastic collection, will plants have the capacity to process it into materials that can be used by companies like Clearwaters, and can people’s habits change so that recycling becomes the norm? That way we’ll have a larger pool of recycled plastic available at a competitive cost.’
8. ‘We also need consumer demand. Is the average consumer willing to pay more and will they walk away from brands who are not doing enough to act sustainably? Time will tell.’
9. ‘Germany is the world’s leading recycler with over 60% of its waste being recycled. It has six different bins: black for general waste, blue for paper, yellow for plastic, white for clear glass, green for coloured glass and brown for composting. This means that citizens must do the sorting themselves, which reduces the cost to government for sorting, as well as reducing contamination. Not all countries operate as efficiently as Germany unfortunately!’