In our childhood, the cobblers were kept really busy. Each of us would have just a couple of slippers/ shoes. If our slipper straps tore or soles came off, we’d need to get them fixed to prolong their use. We’d even get our shoes with worn out soles resoled to delay spending on a new pair.
These days, we find that people have many pairs of footwear and fewer people repair their footwear. They’d rather buy new pairs. This is one reason why the Indian footwear industry is expected to grow at a CAGR by 10-20% by 2020.
Despite being the second largest producer of footwear (after China), there are still many people in India who cannot afford decent footwear. So there is always someone to take the footwear we discard, either to wear as is, or to repair and use. The rest that can no longer be used as footwear, more often than not, land up in rubbish dumps and landfills.
At our society, Whispering Palms Xxclusives, I estimate that we collect over 2000 pairs of footwear a year. Volunteers and housekeeping staff periodically sort the footwear into those wearable and not. All are free to take any they want. We’ve had many housemaids, security guards, housekeeping staff, delivery boys, vendors and even residents pick up footwear, sometimes sparingly used or almost new.
In order to reach the usable footwear further to those who would have a use for them, we’ve had a few shoe displays in our society. Over 500 pairs have been picked up by various people at these displays over the past year.
Footwear that no one wants or is not longer wearable is sent to Greensole, Navi Mumbai. Probably the pioneer of shoe recycling, I came across Greensole when they’d begun their work in 2015. They were looking for collection centres in Mumbai and I was looking for some people who could use the large quantity of footwear that I’d been sorting on my own in the garbage area of our building.
In Jan 2018, three of us from WPXX, Mrudula, Sadhana and I visited the Greensole centre at MIDC, Navi Mumbai, carrying with us a boot full of footwear for recycling. We saw the initial processing that the footwear undergoes. A cobbler first checks the footwear. If usable as is, or with minor repairs, he fixes it to be sent to NGOs for distribution. If not, he separates the sole from the rest of the footwear. From these soles fresh ones are punched out, that form the base of new footwear. The uppers are kept aside and the plan (when I spoke to Greensole reps) was to have them recycled into other things, such as bags.
‘At Greensole, we recycle discarded shoes to comfortable footwear, keeping them away from landfills and provide them to children in need. We also retail, upcycled footwear towards building a self-sustaining social venture.’ – Greensole.in
To date, I estimate that we would have sent over 3000 pairs of footwear to Greensole. This includes those dropped into the blue collection bin for the area, kept at WPXX B-Wing. For more information on Greensole, contact Dikshit Patil, VP Operations (+91 8082477868).
There are some types of footwear that Greensole doesn’t have a use for – ladies high heels, children’s shoes (the soles cannot be punched out), broken soles and singles.
We’ve given children’s shoes to street children (through Junoon Trust) and orphanages. Heels and other footwear that are in good condition have been sent to The Street Store, Mumbai (where people shop for free), Jawhar district villages and Goonj. The rest have been boxed awaiting some artistic installation.
The next time you see a nice piece of footwear, give it a thought before buying. Buy if you really need it. And when you throw, make sure it goes into the society’s recycling bin so that it is kept away from landfills and can reach the feet of someone who needs it.