PVC Soul

The Soul of Brasil is PVC

Rubber or Plastic? PCCR or PVC? What material is your sole?

There are many things one will need to adapt to if moving to Hawaii, and one change that many people would welcome is regarding shoes.  Once you arrive in the islands, you will find that your need for shoes greatly diminishes.  The die-hard fashionistas may still be wearing high heels, boots, and dress shoes, but the majority eventually slip into the ‘slippah’ lifestyle overtime.  You may have a pair to wear around the house, ones to go to the beach, one for more ‘formal’ occasions, ones for hiking, and the list goes on.

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While the rest of my shoes have gathered dust in the closet, I now can count 4 pairs of sandals in rotation, 3 pairs that have retired, and 1 pair that was returned to the store over the course of 2 ½ years since moving to Hawaii.  The burn rate is substantial, I wasn’t kidding about the ‘slippah’ lifestyle.

As an eco-minded designer, what could have led me to purchase a pair of sandals made of PVC, the most toxic plastic of all?! 

Sandals are generally not recycled, there isn’t a second cycle for them.  Products made with used sandals?  Do any come to mind that you would purchase?  Kind of a yucky thought there.  The NIKE Reuse a Shoe program grinds old sneakers into paving material for playgrounds, running tracks, and other surfaces, but makes clear that they only accept athletic shoes and LIVESTRONG wristbands only – sandals and flip-flops do not apply.

Nike Reuse a Shoe ProgramThe Nike Reuse a Shoe Program has recycled over 25 million pairs of shoes since 1990.

These thoughts led me to consider Crocs, the plastic shoe that exploded onto the marketplace in the last decade.  I’ve never liked Crocs; I’ve encountered people who have immensely smelly feet that I attribute to them; I don’t like the crocodile logo; they are overpriced, and I just think that they are ugly (see examples below).  Yet, they are ridiculously popular.  The people that wear them swear by the comfort, longevity, and utility of the shoe.

Fashion icons Sacha Baron Cohen and Mario Batali love their Crocs.

Fashion icons Sacha Baron Cohen and Mario Batali love their Crocs. – Via PopFi

As much as I disliked the aesthetic of Crocs, after surveying my sandal burn rate, I decided to give the brand a chance.  Because classic Crocs are made of limited materials and are essentially manufactured by molds, they should be extremely efficient to produce and easy to recycle. Could it be that my designer snobbery had prevented me from choosing the most eco-friendly choice all along?

Not so fast.  What exactly are Crocs made of?  A quick search on the internet reveals they are made of a material called Croslite™:

“Croslite™ is a proprietary Closed Cell Resin material which is NOT plastic NOR rubber. Croslite™ material is closed-cell in nature and anti-microbial, which virtually eliminates odor. It is an extraordinary impact absorbing resin material developed for maximum cushioning.”

–       From Answers.com

“Thank you for your inquiry. Crocs™ shoes are made from Croslite™ material, a proprietary closed-cell resin (PCCR). As such, we cannot discuss its chemical components, or how it is made…”

–       From Safer Choices Blogl

OK, so it’s a proprietary blend, but it is still one material, so theoretically should be able to be recycled.  Does the company recycle them?  In a lovely feel-good PR Campaign dated from 2007, CROCS did have a ‘first-of-its-kind-recycled-footwear-donation-program’ called Soles United.


Here is the reality of Soles United in 2012, a bit of a buzz kill compared to the video to say the least.

SolesUnited.com has expired!

Soles United, which use to recycle old donated Crocs into new shoes, has now morphed into Crocs Cares, a new program where they don’t recycle the material, but have passed the buck onto Soles 4 Souls, an NPO, to wash your unwanted but still wearable Crocs, and donate those as is.

Crocs is a public company with over $1 billion in sales in 2011 and boasts over 100 million pairs of shoes sold. I guess when your company’s commitment to sustainability is half-baked, it’s kind of a crock of Croslite.

So what’s wrong with PVC?  The question is more, what’s not wrong about PVC?

The worst plastic, from both an environmental and health standpoint, is polyvinyl chloride, or PVC, commonly known as vinyl.”

– From Healthy Child Healthy World

PVC’s entire life cycle, from production through use and disposal, has a negative impact on human health and our environment.”

–       From The Alliance for a Clean Environment

My sandals over these past couple years were a mish-mash of suede or leather and unspecified manmade materials.  Did any pair have an end-of-life potential beyond the dump?  No.

Should I try to support a shoe company with committed sustainable values?  Oh right, Simple Shoes is no more.  I am still considering a pair of TOMS, but sandals are in question here, which they do not make.

Should I try to boost the local economy by buying local?  A pair of Island Slippers for around $70? Err, my wallet didn’t want to comply.

Maybe I should just go back to the original granola shoe, ye ole Birkenstocks? At $80-$130, no can do.  And actually, they are a mish-mash of materials too!

Would it really be so terrible to purchase a pair of sandals that from touch-and-feel, seemed like it would outlast all of the others?  According to the Rider Sandals website, 30% of my sandals are recycled content, and 99% of the industrial waste created in their manufacturing is recycled or reused.  They also state –

environmental sustainability is an integral part of both the company’s and Brazil’s culture.”

It doesn’t all seem to add up…but flip-flops are a necessity in paradise, so if these $21 soles lasts longer than the rest, maybe my soul won’t feel so conflicted in the long run.