Louisa Pearson: ‘Was the owner abducted by aliens, the shoe somehow managing to evade the tractor beam?

THERE’S something disconcerting about seeing an abandoned shoe on the road.

If it’s a child’s shoe, you smile indulgently, imagine them kicking it off while being pushed around in a pram, but when it’s an adult’s shoe, more sinister imaginings occur. Was the owner abducted by aliens, the shoe somehow managing to evade the tractor beam? Having spotted several abandoned flipflops in Edinburgh recently, I’m more inclined to think their former owners were probably just drunk.

Flipflops made an appearance on the recent BBC series Indian Ocean. Thanks to ocean currents and the world’s short-term attitude to flipflop ownership, the inhabitants of the Lamu archipelago, off the coast of Kenya, find thousands of flipflops washed up on their beaches every year. Not only is this a litter problem of epic proportions, it makes the nesting grounds of sea turtles horribly inaccessible. So far so miserable, until we were told about UniquEco, a social enterprise that recycles 30,000 flipflops a year and turns them into toys and jewellery. At this point I will pause to say I’m not going back to Edinburgh to collect flipflops for upcycling purposes, but I applaud the people of Lamu for their efforts.

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Still, I do actually need a pair of sandals. As I slipped on my summer footwear the other day, Mr Green groaned and said, “Oh no, it’s the RE teacher sandals.” So rude. To be fair, my comfortable, yet distinctly unfashionable, sandals have seen better days, but I really hate shoe-shopping. Flipflops are a no-go because I find the plastic bit between big and second toes excruciatingly painful. But is there an eco-friendly version of a Jesus sandal out there with my name on it? A guilt-free flipflop for the rest of you?

Of course there is. Flipflop flotsam is a worldwide disaster story because so many flipflops are made of polyurethane. People don’t repair them because they’re inexpensive to replace and the plastic won’t even dream of biodegrading. So let us first turn to flipflops made using natural latex. Ethletic does a splendid range (available at www.nigelsecostore.com) that are FSC-certified (the latex comes from responsibly managed plantations in south India and Sri Lanka). At £14.99 a pair, they’re not cheap, as such, but nor will they break the bank.

Recycled materials are an alternative to natural latex in the world of ethical sandals, and Komodo (www.komodo.co.uk) has a good range. For those of us with delicate toes, the canvas flip flop looks a reasonable option, featuring organic cotton canvas straps, woven grass footbed and a sole made from recycled car tyres. Massai Treads (on Amazon and other retailers) are fairly traded and handmade in Kenya, featuring uppers made from natural materials such as hemp and recycled tyres for the soles. Elsewhere, Patagonia (www.patagonia.com) looks ahead to the inevitable day when you tire of your sandals so offers a recycling service via PLUSfoam.com – you send your well-worn footwear back to live another day in another shape or form.

Other interesting facts about flipflops? In the South Pacific they’re called go-aheads, in South Africa they’re slip-slops and in Australia they’re thongs. Which could lead to some seriously embarrassing international miscommunication. Whatever you call them, make sure yours are eco-friendly. I’m trying to think what I could turn my RE teacher sandals into, but I fear they would make the world’s ugliest jewellery. Much to Mr Green’s dismay, I think I’ll just keep wearing them.