Shoes washing up on beaches reveal secret corporate irresponsibility on shipping company pollution

People are finding brand new shoes washing up on the beaches on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean, and it’s shining a light on how irresponsible corporations are when it comes to reporting shipping mishaps that pollute the sea.

In March 2018, the Maersk Shanghai encountered a storm while traveling to deliver cargo off the coast of of the Eastern United States between Virginia and South Carolina. As a result, several shipping containers ended up in the ocean. Some were recovered. Others sank.

Now, over a year later, several brands of shoes and flip-flops are washing up on shorelines in North America and Europe. One would think these shoes and flip-flops would be old ones that were thrown in the trash or something. But that’s not the case because these are new.

Experts believe the footwear came from the containers lost during the storm. But at the time the incident occurred, the shipping company, nor the shoe companies reported the loss. We only know about it now because of the shoes washing up on shores.

According to BBC News:

“Shipping companies only have to report lost containers if they could become a hazard for other vessels or if they include substances deemed ‘harmful to the marine environment’, such as corrosive or toxic chemicals. While the Marine Conservation Society says products like trainers harm marine environments, they do not count as ‘harmful’ for the purpose of reporting cargo lost at sea.”

That’s a problem because the plastic and rubber materials used to manufacture shoes are absolutely a threat to marine animals and the habitats in which they live.

This site has repeatedly written about the threat that plastics pose to our oceans, especially microplastics.

Microplastics are tiny pieces that break off from larger pieces such as bottles, bags, and yes, shoes. These microplastics end up in the food supply by getting swallowed by plankton, which is then swallowed by filter feeders such as several species of whales. The plastic is killing whales more frequently, and it’s even ending up in our own bodies.

“Whatever it is – if it is sinking to the bottom or washing up on beaches – it’s going to have a detrimental impact to the marine wildlife,” Marine Conservation Society’s Lauren Eyles said. “The shoes will be breaking down to microplastics over years, which will have huge impacts on the amazing wildlife we have both in the UK and worldwide.”

Companies that lose merchandise on the open seas should be forced to help clean up the mess. People and animals both have a right to clean beaches and waters, and they certainly don’t want to find random shoes everywhere while they are immersing themselves in nature. But that’s going to happen for years just from this one shipping incident because it takes at least three years for shoes to be carried by currents around the Atlantic Ocean. It will likely take longer than that for all of the shoes to be found, assuming a poor whale isn’t mistaking the shoes for prey and swallowing them whole first.

People who actually care about solving this problem are calling for laws to hold companies accountable. Just because a shipping container sinks, it doesn’t mean the merchandise disappears. It just creates a problem that will last for years and add to the problems our oceans already face. Companies can do better. They must do better.

Featured Image: Wikimedia

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Stephen D. Foster Jr.

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