July 21, 2020

Moths, Pollinators, and Pesticide-Free Footwear

Po-Zu MOTH launches 2020

By Zach Mayford, guest writer.

Like many of the our products, the MOTH sneaker blends conscious couture with sustainable ethics, yet this season's MOTH vegan shoe take things a step further.

The MOTH, along with its sibling range BUTTERFLY, both use exclusively Organic cotton fibres in a range of classic colours. But why choose Organic?

In cutting out pesticides, Po-Zu’s production preserves the complex ecosystems of plants and pollinators that keep the planet ticking. 

In 2019, the American Environmental Protection Agency rolled back laws banning a powerful pesticide linked with the rapid decline in pollinator population. The chemical, Sulfoxaflor, forms part of a chemical family which is currently terrifying conservationists and decimating wildlife: neonicotinoids. Unlike traditional pesticides which are sprayed onto crops from planes or tractors, farmers use neonicotinoids in a different way. Coated* on to the seeds of the crops before they’re planted, neonicotinoids spread through the plant as it grows. They make every part of it toxic to insects. 

*this is the reason why coating is also better in principle than spraying – because they are NOT sprayed everywhere – however, no one really considered the possibility that end up in pollen and nectar.  


Pesticides’ Environmental Impacts

By toxifying leaves, sap, pollen and roots, neonicotinoids taint the earth and work their way up the food chain. Alarmingly, studies show that only five per cent of the chemical stays in the plant, dispersing the rest of the pesticide into the soil, air, and nearby water. As they affect every part of a plant, not just a target area, scientists call them systemic pesticides. Neonicotinoids pollute everything in their path. 

They are persistent in the environment, occurrence in nectar and pollen and high toxicity for some compounds at very low doses that are problems with even severe nonlethal effects at ~1.0 part per billion (which we mention below). There is also evidence that they end up in field margins (wild flowers) after leaching into the soil from the crops so continue to affect beneficial insects long after the crop is gone.

The chemicals affect animals just like nicotine affects humans. While nicotine gives us a kick at small quantities, it inflicts nasty side-effects at high doses. The stimulation increases with the dose, eventually killing creatures by overriding their nervous systems. Scientists have also found dangerous non-lethal side effects in birds and insects, notably wild bees, like reduced fertility, impaired navigation, and suppressed appetite.


The Bees’ Needs

Remember in 2018 all the bees started disappearing and no one knew why? Now we have a pretty good idea. Scientific consensus is that it is a combination of factors including land use change, lack of floral resources (5). And see sees systemic pesticides like neonicotinoids as one of the culprits behind bee colony collapse disorder (CCD). CCD occurs when most of the worker bees and the queen struggles to look after the infants on her own. In order to make the connection between CCD and the pesticides, studies measured the toxicity in the agricultural industry. 

Another interesting conversation we had when researching this blog post - it's worth giving a nod to wild bee species as mentioned above – honey bees are arguably the chicken of the bee world and just two species (Apis meliffera and Apis cerana) of 20,000 other bees – and they are not suffering as badly as the Bee keepers lobby often suggest – this is not to say CCD isn’t an issue of course, but could be as much to do with poor diet supplements that bee farmers provide their honey bees between crops and the fact that they spend most of their lives on the back of a lorry in the millions. However wild species of bees are suffering and are ALWAYS important to both natural landscapes as well as most food crops that require pollination services. There is a lack of data on most wild bee species. They are much more important for food production than most realise. 

U.S. agriculture, according to a National Geographic report (1) is 50 times more toxic to honey bees than it was 25 years ago. Shockingly, 92 per cent of this increased toxicity stems directly from neonicotinoids. If the widespread use of neonicotinoids continues, 40 per cent of all insect species face extinction.

This applies not just to bees, but to other key pollinators like butterflies, and even moths.

Moths: Pollination’s unsung heroes

While most pesticide worries revolve around bees, the truth is that pollinators are as diverse as plants themselves.

Tiger Moth South London July 2020A 2020 study out of UCL proves the vital role played by moths in plant propagation, and the perils their populations face. It’s almost like bees are the colourful daytime face of plant pollination, and moths are the shy retiring type, promoting our plants by night. The study states that moth transport networks are much larger and more complicated than that of bees, and bees and moths focus on different types of plants to visit.


Bees and butterflies use their long proboscis to gather nectar, but not all moths share this trait. What all moths have, however, are little furry bodies which pollen sticks to. The UCL study, lead by Dr Richard Walton, found that half of observed moth carries a significant amount of pollen on their body fur. They traced the pollen back to 47 different species of plant, showing just how active the moonlit pollinators get. 

Po-Zu’s new MOTH range acknowledges just how hard moths work to keep plants happy, and by creating a pesticide-free range, Po-Zu keeps moths happy too. Like the low-key pollinator flying under the radar, you too can keep a clean conscience with pesticide-free footwear.

Pesticide Victims - Fight or Flight

It’s not only bees and moths under threat from neonicotinoid toxins. Year on year, songbird populations decline, in an alarming trend which conservationists call “The Silent Spring.” The term comes from an environmental science book written by Rachel Carson in 1962 (2) - scientists have heralded the dangers of pesticides for decades. New reports solidify the link between neonicotinoids and chaos for migratory birds. 

When people attempt to quit smoking, they often crave loads of carbs. That’s because nicotine suppresses the appetite, and with no chemicals, the hunger returns with a vengeance. Neonicotinoids share this appetite-suppressing effect, and can cause rapid weight loss in birds. As the chemicals coat seeds and grain, and the crops are often sown during bird migration seasons, they pose a serious risk to avian health.

In 2019, Canadian researchers published a report on neonicotinoids and bird welfare (3). In the study, migratory birds were weighed before and after eating seeds coated in Imidacloprid. The birds lost six percent of their body mass in six hours. Birds need energy to migrate, and they need migrations to survive. In creating such rapid weight loss, neonicotinoids like Imidacloprid can delay migrations and jeopardise the future of entire species.

Pesticides Endanger Humans

Perhaps this post should have led with this, but pesticides also harm and kill the humans who work with them. According to a UN study, (4) The toxins kill 200,000 people a year. Most of these victims work in developing countries with relatively lax labour laws. In many countries, economic hardship forces young children to work with poisonous pesticides. Their young age and developing bodies places them at a greater risk of chronic exposure. Meanwhile in the States the government legalises harmful agricultural poisons while it criminalises certain plants.

In the footwear industry, it's not just pesticides that many garment workers have to worry about. Most shoe manufacturers use solvent glues to attach the sole to the fabric. This process can prove reckless with resources and with human safety. Solvents create toxic fumes and can damage the worker skin with any direct contact. In order to safeguard worker health, Po-Zu never uses solvents on its products. This also makes the shoes easier to repair and customise, promoting reusability, recyclability, and worker safety. For conscious consumers, Po-Zu’s MOTH is the ethical choice.

It’s Not All Doom and Gloom

In the struggle for sustainability, we still have so much to lose. In that sense, everyone should be on the same side, to do better ethically and environmentally to protect the planet. Many institutions, individuals, and companies lead the way in this struggle and Po-Zu are proud to get involved.

We work with the Fair Rubber Association as part of their Fair Rubber collection,  moving towards better certification along our supply chain as they grow and scale impact. By using the Fair Rubber mark in their shoes, Po-Zu guarantees a better living wage for rubber tappers and producers. Instead of short-term or one off investments, fair wage pledges provide a steady flow of resources and opportunities to deserving employees.

Po-Zu Moth: Low-key and Pesticide free

The Po-Zu Moth is available now. click here

Po-Zu leads the way in ecological footwear. We create ethical ranges from innovative plant materials, grown with zero pesticides. Of course, the 2020 MOTH vegan sneakers range is no exception.

When brands cut pesticides from the equation, they protect the environment, and protect their workers too. Along with its ethics, the MOTH vegan trainers brings a sleekness and simplicity to the modern trainer. Light summery vibes flit across the MOTH range, from the red to the grey, to the mint and the indigo. When you look at the finished product, you see a vibrant, retro shoe with a powerful philosophy fused into every fibre. 


With thanks to Zach Mayford, our guest writer
LI - zach-mayford

With fact-checking thanks also to Professor Phil Stevenson: Chemical and Behavioural Ecology of Pollinators and Pests at Kew Gardens (and proud owner of a pair of MOTH sneakers.


(1) https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/2019/08/insect-apocalypse-under-way-toxic-pesticides-agriculture/

(2) https://www.waterstones.com/book/rachel-carson-silent-spring-and-other-environmental-writings/rachel-carson/9781598535600

(3). https://science.sciencemag.org/content/365/6458/1177

(4) https://www.upi.com/Top_News/World-News/2017/03/09/UN-report-estimates-pesticides-kill-200000-people-per-year/1161489037649/

(5) https://science.sciencemag.org/content/347/6229/1255957.abstract