PORTLAND, Ore. — Adidas is trying to achieve its sustainability goals with a recyclable running shoe.
It took the company nearly 10 years to figure out how to build a shoe that can be recycled and turned into another shoe, Adidas said in a statement last week. The new shoe, called Futurecraft.Loop, is made out of a single material, called thermoplastic polyurethane, which can be reused.
Switching from mixed materials to a single material, and not using glue to construct the shoe, was a technological challenge — but one that made this type of recycling feasible.
It’s difficult for recyclers to process mixed materials, like paper and plastic, because their consistencies differ when pulverized. Plastic, for example, can get caught in paper recycling filters and gum up the machines.
Traditional running shoes are made of several different materials that offer different benefits — spandex, for example, stretches, and cotton breathes.
With a single-material product, Adidas can wash the shoes, grind them up into pellets and melt those pellets into a material that can then be used to create more Futurecraft.Loop sneakers without encountering those problems.
To make sure that the shoe performs up to Adidas’ standards, it is using the single material to mimic ones traditionally used, Tanyaradzwa Sahanga, manager of technology Innovation at Adidas, told CNN Business. And instead of glue, Adidas uses heat to fuse pieces together.
The product is “our first running shoe that is made to be remade,” said Eric Liedtke, who is responsible for global brands at Adidas, said in a statement last week, calling it a signal “of our intent to take responsibility for the entire life of our product.”
The plan only works if Adidas actually gets the shoes back. Adidas thinks that asking people to return their used shoes to a store is the best way to do that. But it’s still in early stages of figuring out how exactly the exchange will work.
For now, the company is only dispensing the shoes to about 200 “leading creators” who will trial the shoes,” return them to Adidas, and share feedback before the company expands beyond beta mode. Each location will handle the return to Adidas differently, a company spokesperson explained, with options “ranging from a central drop off location, courier pick-up or a ‘pop-up’ event.”
The “creators” were chosen “based on their dedication and interest in sustainability,” the spokesperson said. A wider release is targeted for 2021. The company did not share the shoe’s price.
Adidas still has a lot to learn about the shoe itself, Sahanga said. “On a technical level, we have a lot of questions,” she said. “We don’t have all the answer,” but the test will offer more clarity, she said.
Futurecraft.Loop is Adidas’ latest effort to become more environmentally friendly. It already makes shoes using ocean plastics and plans to use only recycled polyester whenever possible by 2024.