By Lígia Carvalho Abreu (2015)


Green Boots (Copenhagen in the Morning) and Green Boots (Oslo by Evening). Photos: Courtesy of Green Boots

Through the Streets of Copenhagen. Photo  by Lígia Carvalho Abreu


Portugal has a long tradition in manufacturing high quality, resistant and long-lasting footwear based on artisanal and manual methods of production.

In spite of a dark period, between the 70’s and the 90’s, where some enterprises decided to adopt simpler, cheaper and faster processes of footwear production to the detriment of quality in order to be more competitive, other enterprises have remained faithful to high quality standards and hand-made production.

JSR, founded in 1955 by master shoemaker José Rodrigues Serrazina in the Portuguese town of Leiria, was one of these enterprises which refused to pursue a short-term easy-profit policy, and, instead, has continued to invest in the production of robust, durable, comfortable, high quality and hand-made worker boots.

In 2012, by initiative of designer Pedro Olaio, these boots, once conceived for builders, farmers, fishermen and other workers, extrapolated its traditional purpose to embrace a cosmopolitan and ecological vocation in the shape of Green Boots.  

Green Boots are made at the original location of JSR, by means of the same machinery and manufacturing process (Goodyear Welt) used by Master José Rodrigues Serrazina, in order to guarantee high resistance, durability and quality of this footwear. The manufacturing process is completely manual. Expert artisans take about four hours to produce each pair of boots. 

Green Boots can be customised according to a variety of materials. Each pair was given the name of a European city: Oporto, Lisbon, Copenhagen, Oslo, London, Paris, Moscow, among others. There is also a limited edition of the Green Boots model to pay homage to the 599th anniversary of the Portuguese Discoveries, created in collaboration with plastic artist Joana Vasconcelos.  

Green Boots by Joana Vasconcelos. Photo: Courtesy of Green Boots


However, when looking at Green Boots, it is the recycled tyre rubber of the sole and the biodegradable materials such as cork which makes everyone who is committed to this project, the relevant actors of sustainable development.

In order to justify the importance of the workers' boots sustainable reinvention and its associated industry towards the protection of the environment and human health, I will take as an example: the use of recycled tyre rubber.    

In spite of the tyre industry efforts looking for sustainable alternatives to make tyres, the majority of these non-biodegradable products are still made of synthetic rubber (from petroleum byproducts) or of natural rubber. The environmental problems of rubber production are well known: high level of energy consumption, air pollution, not to mention that almost all the tropical trees, from which natural rubber comes from, are under threat due to climate change and diseases.

In addition, tyre storage in landfill sites has a negative environmental impact since they are not biodegradable and by consequence they can contaminate soil, water, air and endanger human health. The European Union Council Directive 1999/31/EC of 26 April 1000 on landfill waste prohibits member States from sending used tyres to landfills. According to article 5 nº 3 d) of the mentioned Directive:

Member States shall take measures so that the following wastes are not accepted in a landfill: d) whole used tyres from the date laid down in Article 18 (1), excluding tyres used as engineering material, and shredded used tyres five years from the date laid down in Article 18 (1) (excluding in both distances bicycle tyres and tyres with and outside diameter above 14000 mm).[i]  


    However, this Directive does not prevent member States from exporting used tyres to non-member States and consequently permits pollution caused by used tyres to continue in other countries.

Article XX b) of GATT 1994 allows governments to limit trade when necessary in order to protect human, animal and plant life, as well as health[ii]. On 20th January 2006 the World Trade Organisation (WTO) Dispute Settlement Body established a Panel to settle the conflict between the EU and Brazil about the import of retreaded and used tyres[iii]. The EU was against the import ban on retreaded tyres imposed by Brazil, considering it a protective measure of its retreaded tyre producers.

According to the Brazilian legislation, the import of retreaded tyres, as well as marketing, transportation and storage, except domestic retreaded tyres, was sanctioned with a fine. This ban did not apply to MERCOSUL countries. In this context, the EU considered that Brazil had infringed articles[iv]:


 I nº 1 (General most - favoured - nation treatment): (…) any advantage, favour, privilege or immunity granted by any contracting party to any product originating in or destined for any other country shall be accorded immediately and unconditionally to the like product originating in or destined for the territories of all other contracting parties); III nº 4 (National Treatment):  The products of the territory of any contracting party imported into the territory of any other contracting party shall be accorded treatment no less favourable than that accorded to like products of national origin in respect of all laws, regulations and requirements affecting their internal sale, offering for sale, purchase, transportation, distribution or use; XI nº 1 (General Elimination of Quantitative Restrictions):   No prohibitions or restrictions other than duties, taxes or other charges, whether made effective through quotas, import or export licences or other measures, shall be instituted or maintained by any contracting party on the importation of any product of the territory of any other contracting party or on the exportation or sale for export of any product destined for the territory of any other contracting party and XIII nº 1 (Non-discriminatory Administration of Quantitative Restrictions): No prohibition or restriction shall be applied by any contracting party on the importation of any product of the territory of any other contracting party or on the exportation of any product destined for the territory of any other contracting party, unless the importation of the like product of all third countries or the exportation of the like product to all third countries is similarly prohibited or restricted[v]


In turn, Brazil stated that the ban was justified to prevent the negative impact of tyre waste on the environment, including human health. In tropical climates, tyre piles are a breeding habitat for mosquitos and rodents which are responsible for several diseases (encephalitis, dengue fever, yellow fever or malaria). Burning tyre in the open air releases carcinogens substances into the atmosphere. When pyrolytic oil is released, it affects human health and also soil and water. Water pollution derived from burning tyres can last up to 100 years and the storage in landfills has also a negative impact on the environment.[vi]

The Panel affirmed that Brazilian import prohibition on retreaded tyres imposed by Portaria SECEX and Portaria DECEX 8/1991, and the fines on importation, marketing, transportation or storage of retreaded tyres set out by Presidential Decree 3.179, amended by Presidential Decree 3.919, were inconsistent with article XI nº1 of the GATT 1994. In addition, the measures concerning retreaded tyres in Brazilian law 12.114, amended by law 12.381 were not in accordance with article III nº 4 of the GATT 1994.[vii]  

The Panel and the WTO Appellate Body have also recognised Brazil’s right, under GATT Article XX (b) to impose trade limitations so as to protect human, animal and plant life, as well as health.

However, the WTO Appellate Body affirmed that the MERCOSUR exemption and the import of used tyres under Court injunctions constituted arbitrary and unjustifiable discrimination under WTO rules.[viii] As a consequence, the import ban should be applied to all countries and no decision of Brazilian Courts should permit the import of used tyres.

In this context, in 2009 the Brazilian Federal Supreme Court declared the constitutionality of the legal dispositions (Portarias SECEX and CONAMA) which prohibited the import of used tyres, including those from other South American countries.

The Brazilian Constitution, according to the principles of the rule of law, such as the principle of proportionality, affirms that human health and environmental protection for present and future generations must prevail over the freedom to choose and develop an economic activity. Thus, no Court in Brazil should emanate a decision recognising a right to import used tyres[ix].

By taking into account the countries that are aware of the dangers of used tyre piles and storage in landfills and that none of them want waste from others nearby, it is pertinent to ask: What should we do with all these used tyres? Recycle tyre rubber and reuse it to create long lasting products, such as Green Boots. In fact, recycling is the basic principle of waste management and serves a purpose in preventing damages to the environment and human health. This has been affirmed by several legislations, for instance the Directive 2008/98 EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 19 November 2008 on waste.

Moreover, sustainable development demands a rational use of natural resources from all human beings, according to their intergenerational and intragenerational responsibility. The use of recycled tyre rubber reduces the need for natural resources. Moreover, manufacturing products from recycled materials requires much less energy than manufacturing those from natural resources. 

Green Boots (Algarve). Photo: Courtesy of Green Boots 

Thus, these are some of the reasons why the Green Boots project is a sustainable reinvention of the traditional product and industry.





[i] European Union Council Directive 1999/31/EC of 26 April 1000 on the landfill waste,

[ii] GATT 1994,

[iii] Dispute WT/DS332, Brazil - Measures Affecting Imports of Retreaded Tyres,

[iv] Dispute WT/DS332, Ibid.

[v] GATT 1994.  

[vi] Brazil- Measures Affecting Imports of Retreaded Tyres (WT/DS332), First Written Submission of Brazil, 8 June 2006, § 29-37,

[vii] Panel Report, Dispute WT/DS332,   

[viii] Appellate Body Report, Dispute WT/DS332, Ibid.

[ix] Brazilian Federal Supreme Court decision,   and