There's no doubt that stepping on someone's fresh kicks is a cardinal sin of the streets. The streaks and dirt stains from an accidental foot mashing are such a no-no, the minute sneakers show signs of wear, many of us chuck them in the garbage. But do our athletic shoes really need to be consigned to landfill status? To get us to think twice about our consumptive ways, a trio of London designers decided to create a pair of sneakers made entirely of plastic trash.
The prototype shoes, called Everything You Buy Is Rubbish, were conceived as part of a graduate school art project. “We chose to make sneakers because they're generally the first items of clothing to show signs of damage, subsequently being the earliest items to be discarded,” says cocreator Charles Duffy, a design student at the University of London.
Duffy and co-inventors William Gubbins and Billy Turvey made the multicolored kicks by collecting plastic from local beaches, melting it in a convection oven, flattening the melted mass into a sheet, wrapping the sheet around a mold, and hand-stitching the components together. The entire process—from design to production—took two weeks.
“We had to make custom jigs and undertook countless experiments in reconstituting the plastic,” Duffy says. Even the laces were woven together by hand, using fishing rope the group found in Lyme Regis, a town on the coast of the English Channel.
Waste is a chronic global problem that affects the health of humans and the environment. Worldwide, a million plastic bags are used every minute. Americans are particularly trashy; they produced 251 million tons of garbage in 2012 alone. Only one-third of that was composted or recycled, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
The problem is only going to get worse. According to the World Bank, 1.43 billion tons of solid waste is discarded worldwide every year. By 2025, that figure will have increased to 2.42 billion tons per year.
Although these plastic sneakers aren’t for sale, the Everything You Buy Is Rubbish project hopes to scrape a few pounds of detritus off the top of that annual trash tonnage. “We hope that the project will provoke some thought before we buy blindly,” says Duffy. “We aren't aiming to chastise people—just to raise awareness and hopefully spark conversation on the topic.”