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Leon Kaye headshot

100 Percent Recyclable Sneakers? Adidas Is on It

By Leon Kaye

Your car and that pair of sneakers you just put on have more in common than you think. Both contain scores of parts, which makes recycling a challenge. Okay, well that may be a stretch — an automobile has far more parts than your average athletic shoe. Nevertheless, while anywhere from 80 percent to almost all of an automobile can be recycled, recyclable sneakers are still a ways off. Estimates suggest once they are no longer wanted, 90 percent of shoes end up at a landfill.

Adidas, however, says it’s making progress toward a 100 percent recyclable shoe.

Last year, the company worked with 200 people to test out a concept running shoe, the Ultraboost DNA Loop. Adidas asked the individuals to test them, wear them, and provide feedback so the company could take the next steps necessary to roll out the potentially recyclable sneakers to a wider audience. The next phase of these trial runs will include 1,500 people — all of whom Adidas vetted for their sustainability chops before they participated in this test run. Speaking of chops, at the end of this run, the shoes will be returned, chopped up and churned into a new product.

Plenty of other brands are taking the recyclable sneakers — or at least, more sustainable sneakers — plunge: It’s an impressive list that includes Allbirds, Converse, Everlane, Nike and Reebok. The challenge, however, is that most shoes still use various materials, including leather, canvas, rubber or resin, and there are additional complexities when one accounts for glue and other parts in our shoes.

The difference with this product line from Adidas is that the company says it is entirely manufactured from thermoplastic polyurethane, or TPU. As the Ultraboost DNA Loop is entirely comprised of TPU — and fashioned without the use of any glue — at the end of use, the sneakers can be washed, ground into pellets and then melted, molded and spun into a new pair of shoes, with the added benefit of a huge reduction in waste that would have otherwise been incinerated or entombed in landfill.

This project is part of Adidas’ goal to eliminate all virgin plastic components from its gear and packaging by 2024.

Image credits: Adidas Media Relations

Leon Kaye headshot

Leon Kaye has written for 3p since 2010 and become executive editor in 2018. His previous work includes writing for the Guardian as well as other online and print publications. In addition, he's worked in sales executive roles within technology and financial research companies, as well as for a public relations firm, for which he consulted with one of the globe’s leading sustainability initiatives. Currently living in Central California, he’s traveled to 70-plus countries and has lived and worked in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.

Leon’s an alum of Fresno State, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California's Marshall Business School. He enjoys traveling abroad as well as exploring California’s Central Coast and the Sierra Nevadas.

Read more stories by Leon Kaye