One Company Says Has It Figured Out
Nearly 50 billion shoes are produced worldwide every year, and almost all of them eventually find their way into a landfill, Business Insider previously reported. Typical running shoes contain about 40 different parts made from several different materials, including, plastic, rubber, metal, and ethylene-vinyl acetate (foam), among others.
Mass-produced shoes are typically held together with extremely powerful glue, which makes them very difficult to recycle because the glue can contaminate the other recyclable materials.
But Danny Pormes, the CEO and founder of FastFeedGrinded, told BI his company has found a way to recycle every part of a shoe’s material. The company, through its unconventional methods, is able to process up to 2,500 shoes per hour.
“We are willing to change the whole shoe industry,” FFG CFO Erna Pordes-Redecker, who is also Danny’s wife, told BI. “It’s very hard, but we’re doing it.”
Danny, an ex-Dutch Marine, told BI he previously won contracts with the Dutch government to provide shoes to the military through his shoe store Runnersworld Hoorn, but about eight years ago, the military asked him to consider a recycling program.
FFG, located in the Netherlands, collects shoes from the Dutch military, store collection boxes, and manufacturers who pay the company to destroy defective shoes.
The company then separates the shoes into different types before pushing them through an automated system that uses heat and friction to disassemble them.
After the shoes are broken down, the materials are separated by type, such as the rubber, which is ground into fine particles, and the fabric, which can be spun to create new shoe laces.
Following the request from the Dutch government, the Pormes’s started working with Asics to develop new shoes from recycled materials. Asics says that while it can create new shoes from recycled materials, they can’t be used for high performance.
“If we take our highest performance running shoe, making that entirely from circular recycled materials, it won’t have the same functional properties still,” Asics manager of sustainability Romy Miltenburg told Business Insider.
Miltenburg said Asics hopes to get to a point where it can manufacture high-performance shoes from recycled materials.
“Hopefully, it will not be just a cool side project, but something we can really implement into the way we make shoes at large,” Miltenburg said.
In 2022, FFG faced a devastating fire at its first recycling plant that destroyed everything, but the company opened up a new facility in just 10 months.
“Most of the people, in the beginning, they are laughing,” Pordes-Redecker told BI. “But now they are saying to us, ‘my God this is so, so good that you have been fighting to do this, to make it right, and to get it done.'”
Other large shoemakers — like Adidas — are also working to make their shoes more sustainable by using plastic found floating in the oceans. The plastic is first crushed into flakes before it’s heated and spun into polyester used to create the top of the shoe.
Adidas released the Futurercraft Loop in 2021, a shoe made entirely from recyclable plastics and no glue. The shoes only use a single material and are designed to be recycled into future versions of the same shoe.