Monday was a beautiful day for the race — the human race, as Michael likes to say. And although rain appeared imminent, I decided to take a walk. As I mentioned a few months ago, I’ve slowly been switching my healthcare, dental, and other services to providers located within walking distance of my home. Less time on public transit. More time in the fresh air. My groovy new green dentist’s office is 12 minutes away via bicycle and 30-40 minutes on foot, depending on how leisurely I feel and how much time I have.
As with each of the modes of transportation I’m considering this week, walking has its pros and cons.
Although I live in an urban area with shops and services within walking distance, my walk is beautiful. Okay, that’s not fair. I live in California where flowers bloom all year round. But honestly, I can find something interesting to look at wherever I happen to be.
Walking is great exercise. Why would I take the bus (or drive) to the gym when I can get my cardio in just by walking to the dentist?
Walking requires no fossil fuels, especially if I’m fueling my body with local, organic foods.
Walking allows me to notice little things, like plastic trash on the ground, and do something about it. Some days I’ll focus on picking up bottle caps. Other days, plastic bags or drinking straws. Sometimes I just go for whatever seems to be calling out to me the loudest. I obviously can’t pick up all the plastic from the streets of Oakland, but doing this little bit helps me connect with the trash problem personally each day. I couldn’t do this if I were always on bike, bus, or train.
As I mentioned yesterday, my neighborhood is great for walking. In fact, according to the website America’s Most Walkable Neighborhoods, my community’s walk score is 85 out of 100, Very Walkable. You can type your own zip code or address into the box to get your community’s Walk Score. If it’s high, great! If it’s low, you’ve got work to do.
For example, contact your federal representatives and ask them to support the Complete Streets Act of 2009 “to ensure that all users of the transportation system, including pedestrians, bicyclists, and transit users as well as children, older individuals, and individuals with disabilities, are able to travel safely and conveniently on streets and highways.”
Walking takes time. Obviously we don’t always have time to walk to work or to our various appointments. But why not fit it in on those days when we do… or attempt to arrange our day to allow for some walking time? Wouldn’t it be nice to savor time rather than saving it?
Walking sucks in “bad” weather. Why, youngster, when I was your age, I slid on my bare hands and knees through glass to get to school. You kids don’t know how great you have it. But seriously, what is “bad”? The most fun I ever had as a kid was jumping in the rain-filled ditches all the way home from school with my friend Lenora. I think we both got into trouble for coming home soaked, but did we care? I don’t think so. My dad will remember this incident if he’s reading this post. The point is that umbrellas were invented for just this purpose.
Not everyone is physically able to walk. True. But not everyone is physically able to drive either. We do what we can.
Walking may not be entirely plastic-free. And if you have feet like mine, it surely isn’t. My mom has small, beautifully-arched feet. I did not inherit them. What I have have been described as “critter feet,” “hobbit feet,” or just plain “deformed.” They have practically no arch at all. When I started running several years ago, I went through four pairs of shoes in the first few months just trying to find a pair that would not give me shin splints or knee pain or black toenails requiring kitchen surgery. I finally found the only pair of shoes that has ever worked for me perfectly — these geeky looking New Balance 881s (which I think have been discontinued and replaced with 883s). And what are they made of? Plastic foam! Not recycled plastic. Not biodegradable plastic. Nothing even attempting to be eco-friendly. Since I stopped running a year ago (I really should start again) the shoes are still in decent shape for walking. But what can I do at the end of their lives?
ATHLETIC SHOE RE-USE/RECYCLING:
Run the Planet has a list of shoe recycling programs, including programs that give gently-worn shoes away to needy runners as well as Nike’s program to grind them up and downcycle them into playground surfaces. My local athetic shoe store, TranSports (also within walking distance of my home), has a shoe collection bin. I believe the shoes are shipped to Nike for the aforementioned grinding and surfacing. I’ll wait until my shoes are completely unwearable and then take them there (or add them to my plastic tally!) The shoe failures I went through before finding my 881s were given away to lucky Freecycle recipients.
ECO-FRIENDLY ATHLETIC SHOES?
Trolling around the web, I’ve found some interesting articles on shoe manufacturers attempting to make their shoes at least somewhat more eco-friendly. Here’s just a smattering of what I came across.
Brooks has developed the first biodegradable midsole for their running shoes. They are made of BioMoGo, EVA foam with an additive that causes them to break down within 20 years in a landfill. Whether or not this additive causes them to be unrecyclable in Nike’s program, I don’t know. I’ve contacted Brooks for more information and am waiting to hear back. Still, only the midsole will biodegrade. As far as I know, the rest of the shoe will not.
END Footwear, on the other hand, makes its shoes from recycled plastics. The company’s web site states that it is working on developing shoes that are completely sustainable and that “could be tossed into your compost pile.” In the meantime, they have partnered with Soles4Souls.org to send used shoes to people without any shoes at all. [11/02/2013 Update: According to Treehugger, END Footwear has been discontinued.]
TOMS Shoes, based on the Argentinian alpargata, are slipons made from canvas with an EVA composite sole. Yes, that means plastic. But the beautiful thing about this company is that for every shoe sold, they donate a pair to children who can’t afford shoes. It’s a cool story. I contacted TOMS to find out about the environmental impact of the shoes and was told by a customer service rep that they “have an eco-friendly line coming out very soon” with uppers “from a certified organic source” and “the soles made from recycled rubber, with a very minimal amount of glue.” Interesting. However, I doubt these shoes would provide enough support for my poor feet.
Simple Shoes has a line called EcoSNEAKS, which are made from “materials like recycled car tires, certified organic cotton, PET (think recycled plastic bottles), recycled bike tires, and hemp.” [11/02/2013 Update: Simple Shoes is also out of business.]
Is there a different eco-friendly brand that you can recommend?
Of course, buying lightly worn shoes from thrift stores or getting them from Freecyclers like me is even better, if you don’t mind wearing used shoes. The bottom line is that while walking may not be a completely plastic-free activity, the plastic in shoes is significantly less than the 250 pounds in cars. Still, let’s be mindful of even this little bit and take steps to mitigate our plastic soleprints.