Shoe Recycling Initiatives by Footwear Manufacturers

Recycling Programs Needed, We are "Running" out of Room

Steve Nash "Trash Talk" is manufactured from manufacturing waste. Nike

Shoes are designed for great looks, great performance, or a combination of both. Unfortunately, they have all too infrequently been designed with recycling in mind.

As many different kinds of materials such as leather, rubber, foams, synthetics, fabric and metal erects are used in the production of footwear products, efficient and cost effective separation of all these components has always been a challenge for recycling footwear products.

 Especially, the presence of metal components in the footwear products makes efficient recycling even more daunting. If the design for recycling principles are followed, however, the recycling rate of footwear products should increase dramatically from the current level of only 5 percent globally. Critics stress that major footwear manufacturers will need to step up and contribute in order to significantly improve recycling effectiveness.

To date, most footwear manufacturers have not taken steps to recycle their footwear products and to use recycled content in their production process. Fortunately, however, there have been a handful of industry participants that are leading by example when it comes to shoe recycling and reuse through shoe donations. Here are descriptions of the recycling initiatives they have undertaken.

Nike

One of the world’s most instantly recognizable brands to actively participate in footwear recycling is Nike.

It has supported external research initiatives such as collaborating with UK’s Centre for SMART, as well as developing an in-house response to the issue of what happens to discarded footwear. Since its Reuse-A-Shoe initiative left the starting blocks in 1993, the company has collected and reground 28 million pairs into Nike Grind - a material that has been used in more than 450,000 locations worldwide in applications such as running track/playground surfaces, carpet backing, soles for new footwear and the zipper pull on the Nike Vapor jacket.

Surfaces made with Nike Grind cover about 632 000 000 square feet - nearly enough to cover Manhattan. Nike makes every attempt to drive waste as high up the value chain as possible - ideally back into its own product through closed-loop innovation. Examples include material vendor take-back programs and grinding rubber outsoles back into new outsoles, including testing and exploring new ways to increase the level of scrap content that can be mixed back into new outsole rubber.

Puma

In January 2013, Puma joined the movement with its “Bring Me Back” program. Not as actively as Nike, Puma has shown its commitment towards recycling and reusability of footwear products.  Puma’s “Bring Me Back” program is run in collaboration with international recycling company I:CO. The program covers all the products that Puma manufactures not just footwear products.  This allowed consumers to bring their discarded and used Puma footwear products back to Puma stores which Puma processes further for reuse or recycle.  

Converse

Converse, another giant footwear product manufacturer, in partnership with Nike, undertook ReUSE A SHOE program in 2011. The program was established by Nike in 1990 and later in 2011 adopted by Converse.

To date, the ReUSE A SHOE program has repurposed and recycled over 25 million pairs of used athletic shoes into new places to play. From basketball and tennis courts to running tracks to playgrounds and even infill for synthetic turf fields, sports surfaces for all types of play can incorporate Nike Grind material into their design.

While Puma and Converse have joined the movement, neither appears to have gained as much traction as Nike. From collaborating research on footwear recycling to launching recycling programs, Nike is the pioneer in footwear recycling industry. Other major footwear manufacturers should understand the need for redesigning their products while keeping recycling in mind and take the necessary steps to ensure the maximum level of recycling for their footwear products.

  In the absence of such voluntary stewardship, the majority  of discarded footwear products will continue to lead a path into landfills.