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Could the footwear of the future be made from recycled waste?


2.6 billion pairs of new shoes are sold every year in Europe. At the same time, 1.5 million tonnes of old footwear are sent to landfills. The discarded footwear is made up of several materials (leather, textiles, polymers, etc.) which can make recycling them difficult. Here we review three initiatives aiming to raise awareness or facilitate the recovery of these everyday objects.

One recent initiative comes from a collaboration between Parley for the Oceans and Adidas, which is appealing; a large international group, an NGO working to protect the oceans, and above all, a common objective – that of raising public awareness on the state of the oceans and launching promising projects to protect them.
Through this collaboration, the innovative concept of footwear made using recycled waste from the oceans was launched. Upstream, the non-profit organisation The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society has taken on the responsibility for collecting plastic waste from the oceans, primarily resulting from fishing nets that have been illegally discarded in the water. Downstream, Adidas has developed the prototype for a shoe made using these recovered materials.
Presented at the “Oceans. Climate. Life” event hosted by the United Nations in New York on 30 June this year, this is a partnership which, according to Erik Liedtke of Adidas, “allows us to tap into new areas and create innovative materials and products for our athletes.”


This initiative is not the first in terms of waste recovery in the footwear sector. A Spanish footwear brand, El Naturalista, has also adopted this approach as part of a project to study the options for recycling different shoe components. To achieve this, El Naturalista has installed containers in its stores for the collection of old shoes so they can be recycled. Once the shoes have been collected, they are cut into pieces, ground up, then placed on a conveyor belt to separate the different materials using a magnet. The ground-up matter obtained, in the form of 3–4 mm granules, can then be used as a raw material for manufacturing new shoes, or for other uses such as manufacturing speed bumps for roads. This project has enabled more than 12,000 pairs of shoes with recycled soles to be made and sold! It meets the twofold objective of reducing the amount of waste being sent to landfill and limiting the production of new polymers, and has received financial support from the Eco-innovation initiative under the European Union’s Competitiveness and Innovation Framework Programme.

Another remarkable initiative is presented by French artist Christophe Guinet, in his “Just Grow It!” series, where he reuses old trainers by transforming them into flower pots or mini flower gardens. This is an example of upcycling which, although it lacks the potential for industrial development, draws attention to the problem of repurposing old shoes, which is still not sufficiently developed in terms of the amount of waste they represent.

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