Sole of the Earth: Recycled Corks Find New Life in New Shoes

Sustainable footwear company launches shoe with a sole made from recycled wine corks

Sole of the Earth: Recycled Corks Find New Life in New Shoes
Feeling "green"? Step into a pair of Sole X UBB Jasper Chukkas, the greenest shoes you'll find that don't actually come in green. (Courtesy of Sole)
Mar 14, 2022

Anyone who’s ever tired of their decorative basket or wine carafe overflowing with used wine corks has asked themselves the same question: What should we do with those used corks? And if you’ve already taken the step of donating them to a recycler such as ReCork, the fruits of your generosity are afoot …

Canadian footwear brand Sole is releasing a limited-edition shoe, in collaboration with apparel company United by Blue (UBB), made entirely from upcycled waste and post-consumer recycled materials, including recycled wine corks in its midsole. “We’re trying to change the narrative around footwear,” said Alex Cronje, impact marketing specialist for Sole, citing the footwear industry’s reliance on chemical compounds.

Sole’s soles are a product of ReCork, a carbon-negative wine cork recycling program launched by the company in 2008 and which has become the largest program of its kind in North America, recycling nearly 130 million corks to date from bars, restaurants, wineries, grocery stores and consumers in Canada and the U.S. The corks are ground down and mixed with 25 percent non-toxic, food-grade binding agents to form the midsoles.

And it’s not just the midsoles that are made from recycled material. The laces come from recycled PET (clear recyclable plastic). The shoes are insulated with salvaged bison hair and the uppers are made from ethically sourced merino wool; rubber trees (as opposed to petroleum-based rubber) and sugar cane are sourced for the outsole and insole, respectively. “This shoe redefines what’s possible, offering a natural, sustainable, versatile alternative to foams and plastics derived from fossil fuels,” said Cronje.

The Sole X UBB Jasper Chukka ($150) is an ankle-high boot that Cronje believes is on par with competitors in terms of comfort and performance. “It’s lightweight, cushioning, flexible and durable,” he said. Keeping with its sustainable ethos, Sole sells the shoes exclusively through its website using a preorder program, which aids in forecasting demand and allows them to produce what is needed, avoiding deadstock and reducing waste. “The goal is to take super material from nature and make sure it’s not wasted.”

The teams behind Sole and ReCork hope this shoe and others will change how the world sees and thinks about working with nature to satisfy everyday needs. “We’re hoping to spread the word of what we’ve accomplished and help encourage more recycling,” said Cronje.


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