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The problem with jelly shoes

The most popular shoes of summer 2024 are not only divergent and nostalgic, but harmful to the environment

The problem with jelly shoes  The most popular shoes of summer 2024 are not only divergent and nostalgic, but harmful to the environment

Cute, colorful, fun, and a bit quirky: jelly shoes are the trend of the moment. Capturing both the Y2K style and the nostalgia effect, these shoes, reminiscent of the ones we wore during summer as kids, have become a season must-have since The Row presented a pair of woven plastic sandals during the pre-fall 2024 show. It only took the touch of the Olsen twins to transform the ugly shoes of our childhood into a hot accessory, loved by celebrities like Jennifer Lawrence, Blake Lively, and Taylor Swift. The data confirms it. According to data analyst Molly Rooyakkers, who runs the Instagram account, there has been an over 100% increase in Google searches for jelly shoes in the past month. Pinterest searches have also risen by 31% in the United States and 28% in the United Kingdom compared to the same period last year.

Are jelly shoes dangerous?

Available in ballerina, flip-flop, or fisherman sandal versions, jelly shoes seem super cute but hide a decidedly negative side: the PVC, the extremely toxic material most of these shoes are made from. Durable, lightweight, water-resistant, and generally cheaper to produce than other materials, polyvinyl chloride seems perfect to meet the needs of brands and consumers who, dazzled by nostalgic and summer aesthetics, disregard its potential environmental hazards. Sara Brosché, campaign manager at IPEN (International Pollutants Elimination Network), emphasizes that PVC is made from vinyl chloride (VC), a highly toxic chemical that "is carcinogenic and can damage the nervous system" and, as if that weren’t enough, it cannot be used alone but requires many toxic additives to be more flexible or to prevent degradation in sunlight.

The toxicity of PVC

Ron Hu, director of CRM at Bluesign Technologies, reminds us that both during production and combustion, PVC releases dangerous materials such as phthalates, linked to hormonal disorders and other health issues, dioxins, and furans, "known carcinogens that can cause reproductive and developmental problems". Additionally plasticizers, lead, cadmium, and heavy metals must be considered as well, as "severe health impacts can occur if they are released into the environment or ingested". Moreover, PVC is generally not recycled or recyclable, "but even when it is, it leads to the uncontrolled spread of toxic additives in new products. When PVC is incinerated, a range of toxic chemicals are emitted: dioxins, carbon monoxide, hydrochloric acid, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs)".

The alternatives

If we like jelly shoes, now that we know their negative impact on the environment, we can look for similar models but not made of PVC. For example, thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU) is a more biodegradable and much less harmful material that has the characteristics of both rubber and plastic. Hemp plastic used by Salter House for their sandals can also be a good alternative. Otherwise, leather or eco-leather fisherman sandals are valid options, perfect to show off both in the city and on vacation.