I’ve had too many pairs of winter boots destroyed by road salt and I’m mad as hell!
In Ontario, where I currently live, road salt is used so heavily that the streets are white with it and there is fine white salt powder on everything. Salt is a highly corrosive mineral that leaves a mark on not only our footwear, but damages nature, metals, and building materials.
Catherine Houska, metallurgical engineer, says that despite environmental concerns, salt for de-icing changes the chemistry of soil, is harmful to plants, trees, and fish, and it’s use continues to grow–even “sunbelt” cities now stock salt for freezing rain.
After reading Houska’s Deicing Salt: Recognizing the Corrosion Threat, I realize just how damaging and far-reaching salt pollution is. “Deicing salt poses a significant but often unrecognized corrosion threat to architectural metals and other construction materials,” Houska writes. “Seasonal deicing salt accumulations have been documented up to 1.9 km from busy roadways and as high as the 59th floor of a high-rise building.”
Overuse of road salt in Ontario wreaks havoc on land and crops that we need to eat. In a recent legal case in Ontario, farmers sued the local government for losses on their crops due to the use of road salt and won. With any luck, this case will set a precedent and the use of corrosive de-icing salts and the destructive effects on land and vegetation will be examined and changes made, possibly moving us to a non-corrosive grit for winter traction like sand, used in places like Saskatchewan and in Russia.
Salt’s corrosive nature can eat its way through even the thickest treated leathers. This winter, I watched my once-waterproof suede boots destroyed by road salt to the degree that water seeped into the outside of the boot and left my feet wet, plus, they look so awful that I am embarrassed to wear them, despite spraying with protective footwear products and regular cleanings with water and vinegar to neutralize salt’s corrosive effects. The salt literally ate through the suede and dried out the zipper so much that they are useless now. So what do I do with them? Thousands of boots and shoes have been rendered useless after being eaten by salt, and most of these will find themselves in landfills, adding to our polluted world. There must be an alternative.
The switch to synthetics
Though I’m not a fan of synthetics, once my suede boots went down, I decided that I will not throw any more money away on leather or suede (to be honest, I’ve decided not to wear leather anything anymore because of the animal cruelty and environmental pollution involved in the leather-tanning process). I’ve ordered waterproof synthetic boots that salt should brush off of. I reckon that this will prevent a volume of winter boots from going into the landfill because the salt will not corrode this particular material, and the boots will have a longer life, create less waste, and reduce the demand for more boots.
I’ve written before about the downfall of rubber boots in the Huffington Post that are now so cheaply made that they crack after one season’s wear and quickly fill the dump with spent boots. I am a huge supporter of investing in good footwear that is environmentally responsible and that one can maintain with visits to shoe repair shops to stretch the boot’s life. A Canadian company that makes good waterproof boots is Kamik. Kamik boots are recyclable and made of vulcanized rubber (the process in which rubber is heated to a high temperature which binds unstable rubber polymer chains and makes them strong, elastic, and waterproof, as opposed to cheap PVC which easily cracks and is quickly tossed). Even better, some Kamik boot styles are available at your local Canadian Tire store!
What I really like about Kamik boots is that they are serious about sustainabilty. They make boot liners and linings from recycled water bottles; soles are 100% recyclable, and they create “innovative materials like Ecologic Rubber.” Not only does Kamik use recycled products in their footwear, they also offer a recycling program on some styles: Our shoes last a really long time, but when you’ve worn them into the ground, keep them from getting buried in it by sending them back to us. Brilliant.
Now, many of Kamik’s boots for men are for the outdoors and outdoor activites like farming and winter sport, but what about urban men who wear suits to work? The answer is the coloruful, modern-day Norwegian-designed golash, SWIMS. SWIMS can come in the form of an overshoe or overboot, a stylish alternative to salt-eaten shoes and heavy winter boots. SWIMS has collaborated with the likes of Armani and bootmaker, John Lobb, to bring protective footwear into the stylish spotlight. These products use a type of insulated, tear-resistant rubber to protect your shoes from the ravages of winter moisture. However, I cannot see anything linking sustainability to this company, and that’s unfortunate.
Since most of us do not make governmental decisions about road safety and cannot reduce the use of salt used on roads (though we can contact our local politicians to make our voices heard), our alternative is to choose winter footwear that will last longer than permeable materials like leather, and take them to the shoe maker for repair when needed. Our saving grace would be to wear footwear that we could throw in the blue bin when we’re finished with them, eliminating waste and continuously re-using the boot materials.
There are beginnings of this but nothing is full-blown yet: there are shoe recycling spots (mostly in the U.S. where 300 million pairs of shoes go to landfills each year), Nike has a U.S.-based running shoe recycling program, and we’re stating to see small companies develop recyclable shoes. Excellent steps forward, but for us Canadians, we need responsible, recyclable, waterproof boots.