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The environmental pollution caused by rain boots occurs throughout the product’s Lifecycle right from production and distribution to consumption and disposal (Tukker et al., 2006, p.16). Therefore, to reduce their negative impacts on the environment, the material used for making and packaging rain boots and end-of-life options should be considered. It is however worth noting that 70% of a product’s environmental impacts are determined in the design stage (Niinmaki, 2009 in Intertek, 2011, p.7). The main stakeholders in the footwear industry who are also the drivers of sustainability include consumers, the government, non-governmental organizations, industry leaders, supply chain partners and the society. Combined deliberate efforts on the part of all these stakeholders are vital to ensure effective reduction of the negative effects of rain boots on the environment. The materials used in making rain boots include rubber, Ethyl Vinyl acetate (E.V.A), Poly Vinyl Chloride (P.V.C), ployuthrene, nylon, cotton, leather, fleece, suede and gore tex (Shoe Capital, 2007; Intertek, 2011, p.11). Rubber is used to make the upper part of some rain boots mainly because it’s waterproof. Some rain boots however also contain rubber soles to prevent skidding and sliding. Over the recent past, rain boots made out of rubber have become very popular, more so among women and kids because, they are highly waterproof and they do not crack even in extremely cold weather. E.V.A is often used to produce the mid-sole in order to make the boots more comfortable. Polyurethane is also use to make the mid-sole and in some cases the upper part of the rain boot. Nylon and cotton on the other hand are used to make the inner linings owing to the fact they absorb moisture and therefore help to absorb sweat keeping the feet dry. For aesthetic reasons, the upper part of some boots is usually lined with fleece. Apart from rubber, the upper part of some rain boots is made from leather, suede or gore tex. Leather helps to keep the feet dry even in highly wet conditions. Suede is used to make very attractive foot wear and is consequently commonly used for ladies’ rain boots. Finally, gore tex is beyond reasonable doubt the best waterproofing material and therefore produces the best quality rain boots.
Pollution starts right from the production and sourcing of the material used in making rain boots. Leather is obtained from animal hides and skins so it is probably the last material one would suspect of having negative impacts on the environment. None the less, when one considers the process through which leather is transformed from hides and skins into the final product, it is evident that leather processing could have adverse effects on the environment. The tanning process is especially characterized by the use toxic chemicals which are more often than not discharged into the environment prior to treatment. Untreated tannery effluents contain high levels of heavy metals which are very detrimental to the environment (Intertek, 2011, p.12). The adhesives used in the piecing the different parts of rain boots together also contribute to air pollution and are harmful to human health and the environment. “A study among Chinese footwear workers found that exposure to high levels of benzene, toluene, and other toxic solvents contained in adhesives, resulted in aplastic anemia, leukemia, and other health problems” (Intertek, 2011, p.17).
Even though rubber can be extracted sustainably from trees, the process of converting the liquid sap into usable forms of latex, like that of converting hides and skins into leather, can have undesirable effects on the environment (Jong, 2001, p.367). Rubber can also be manufactured through the polymerization of hydrocarbon monomers such as methylpropene (isobutylene), isoprene, chloroprene and butadiene (Albers et al., 2008, p.15). This type of rubber is referred to as virgin synthetic rubber. Its increased production over the years has been linked to the rising demand for tire rubber. The process of polymerizing rubber is associated with fugitive emissions of carbon dioxide and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). The disposal of rubber, especially tire rubber, poses a major threat as a soil pollutant because it is highly non-biodegradable.
Nylon on the other hand is produced from synthesized petrochemicals which are nonrenewable resources (Albers et al., 2008, p.18). Moreover, its production is characterized by the emission of Nitrous Oxide which is a regulated greenhouse gas. To add on to that, nylon is associated with the use of formaldehyde which is not only carcinogenic but is also results in reproductive and neural complications. Sometimes a blend of conventional cotton and nylon 6 are used for inner linings. In other instances pure conventional use used. “Cotton is a pesticide-heavy crop, accounting for approximately 25% of the world’s insecticide use and 10% of the world’s pesticide use. In addition, cotton is the dominant fiber used in apparel and makes up approximately 66% of this market.” (Albers et al., 2008, p.8). The extensive use of chemicals in the cultivation of cotton result in far-reaching environmental implications. Additionally, the production of the cotton nylon blended fiber results in the production of dust, which contributes to environmental pollution and excess waste due to the damage of fibers in the mechanical process of mixing.
Other synthetic fibers used for making rain boots are also associated with a myriad of environmental impacts. The manufacturing of petroleum based products such as EVA, PVC, polyurethane and solvent-based adhesives releases VOCs into the atmosphere. This leads to the formation of tropospheric ozone which is harmful to both humans and plant life (Staikos et al., 2006). Other than that, because they are derived from hydrocarbons they are nonrenewable resources. Toluene di-isocyante (TDI) used in the manufacture of polyurethane is very toxic to humans. Acute exposure to TDI can damage the eyes, skin, respiratory system, central nervous system and gastrointestinal system (The Lowell Center for Sustainable Production, 2011, p.16). Chronic exposure on the other hand could be carcinogenic (Albers et al., 2008, p.17). The production of EVA is associated with a very high consumption of water and energy and fugitive emission into the air.
To reduce their negative environmental impacts, rain boots can be made from natural and recycled materials (Albers et al., 2008, p.7). Apart from initiating and supporting campaigns to sensitize people on the proper disposal of rain boots and other footwear products, a company should participate in End of Life (EoL) management by implementing product take-back programs. Take-back programs could be profitable for the company due the displacement of primary production and the marketing demand for recycled products. Other than that, take back programs could be motivated by legal requirements, environmental stewardship and other industry goals. Irrespective of the motive behind take-back programs, they could result in considerable competitive advantage by improving the corporate image of the company. The collection of fully utilized products can be conducted by manufactures, retailers or third parties. Rain boots that have outlived their usefulness can be collected either through mail-in or drop-off. A company can establish either permanent or temporary receptacles in schools, organizations, retail stores or government buildings to facilitate drop offs. The implementation of a collection mechanism is very important because it discourage the dumping of footwear which causes soil pollution. It should be noted that the use of recycled material for producing shoes is confined to the recycling of footwear products. Other material such recycled polyethylene terephthalate (PET) from bottles can also be incorporated into the supply chain.
Besides recycled material, other natural alternatives such as organic cotton, cork, jute, bamboo and hemp can be used in place of the materials used in making rain boots. The processing of organic and conventional cotton is more or less similar. However, the growing and harvesting of organic cotton done without using fertilizers or pesticides. This helps to significantly reduce the environmental impacts of the crop on the environment. Cork, which can be used as cushioning material for rain boots, is antimicrobial and virtually impermeable to liquids. Unlike other cushioning material such as EVA and polyurethane, cork does not have any known detrimental impacts on the environment. It is also obtained form a renewable source. Bamboo has rapid regeneration rate and is therefore considered as a renewable resource. It is also an excellent substitute for conventional textile fibers because it pest and disease resistant and as such its cultivation does not require agrochemicals. Hemp is another fiber that can be used in place of synthetic fibers. It has minimal environmental impacts because it is harvested by hand. It can also be retted biologically to further reduce its impacts on the environment. Finally, jute, which is the second most important textile fiber after cotton can also be used as an alternative for other synthetic fibers. Jute is can also be retted like hemp and bamboo. Consequently is has negligible negative impacts on the environment. Jute is extremely durable and relatively finer than other fibers such as hemp and can therefore be used to make high quality shoes.
Apart from recycling and using natural resources, a company can use cost effective and environmentally friendly packaging material to distribute the rain boots. Cost effective packaging materials are generally smaller and therefore occupy less space in shipping vehicles and other modes of transport. Besides reducing shipping costs, this helps reduce the overall amount of fuel used in shipping. Cost effective packaging therefore helps to conserve oil which is a non-renewable source of energy and reduce harmful automobile emissions into the atmosphere.
From the foregoing, the toxic impacts of rain boots can be reduced significantly by using recycled and natural biodegradable materials. The recycled rubber soles can be used in place of virgin synthetic rubber while the Polyurethane and EVA mid soles can also be replaced by cork. Moreover, the inner linings, which are mostly made of nylon, can be produced from organic cotton, which also absorbs moisture. Apart from cotton, bamboo can also be used for inner linings. Finally, the upper part can be made natural latex and jute.
Using renewable and natural resources to produce rain boots will significantly reduce the carbon foot print footwear manufacturing companies. Moreover, recycling footwear products will help to significantly reduce environmental pollution, especially soil pollution.
The production of synthetic fibers from hydrocarbons consumes a great deal of water and energy. Avoiding the use of synthetic fibers in the production of footwear will help to reduce the consumption of water and energy. Furthermore, the manufacture of synthetic fibers is also characterized by the emission of carbon dioxide and VOCs into the atmosphere. This will also be reduced.
Figure : Reduction of green house gas emission
Companies should endeavor to reduce the negative impacts of their production activities on the environment by tracing their tracing their carbon footprints and, making necessary modifications in their supply chain.
Figure : Reduction of the ecological foot print
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Intertek, 2011. Sustainable Footwear:Environmental Impact Solutions. [Online] Available at:https://www.wewear.org/assets/1/7/101311McConnell.pdf [Accessed 20 August 2013].
Jong, W.d., 2001. The Impact of Rubber on the Forest Landscape in Borneo. In A.Angelsen & D.Kaimowitz, eds. Agricultural Technologies and Tropical Deforestation. CAB International. pp.367-82.
NSW Government , 2013. Bigfoot – test your ecological footprint. [Online] Available at: HYPERLINK “http://www.powerhousemuseum.com/online/bigfoot/” http://www.powerhousemuseum.com/online/bigfoot/ [Accessed 20 August 2013].
Shoe Capital, 2007. Materials used in Rain Boots. [Online] Available at: http://www.shoecapital.com/boots/rain-boots-materials.php [Accessed 20 August 2013].
Staikos, T., Heath, R., Haworth, B. & Rahimifard, S., 2006. End-of-Life Management of Shoes and the Role of Biodegradable Materials. In 13th Cirp International Conference on Life Cycle Engineering., 2006.
The Lowell Center for Sustainable Production, 2011. Phthalates and Their Alternatives: Health and Environmental Concerns. Technical Briefing. University of Massachusetts Lowell.
Tukker, A. et al., 2006. Environmental Impact of Products (EIPRO). Technical Report Series. Institute for Prospective Technological Studies.