How to turn plastic bottles into shoes?

Adidas recycles that plastic into polyester thread to make shoes.

24th February 2023 – (New York) Recycled polyester is becoming increasingly common as a material for clothing and other products. Its environmental benefits are significant, as it is made from used plastic water and soda bottles, rather than coal, petroleum, air, and water, which are required for new polyester production. The process of making new polyester requires polymerization, which consumes a lot of energy and natural resources, contributing to greenhouse gas emissions and other environmental harms.

In contrast, using recycled polyester consumes fewer resources, as existing plastic is repurposed. PET bottles, which contain polyethylene terephthalate, are commonly used to make recycled polyester. This process produces 75% fewer greenhouse gas emissions than making new PET. PET bottles can be identified by a number “1” in the universal recycling symbol stamped on the product.

Recycling facilities separate PET plastic bottles from other plastics, shred them into flakes, melt the flakes into pellets, and use them to make a special kind of yarn. This yarn is then knitted or woven into polyester fabric. Nine plastic bottles are needed to produce a single T-shirt, and 11 are needed to make a pair of shoes.

Despite the abundance of plastic bottles in the world, there is a need for consumers to properly dispose of their PET containers in recycling bins. However, even when PET ends up at a recycling facility, it can only be recycled a limited number of times. Once it is converted into recycled polyester, it cannot be easily recycled again. Scientists are working on new ideas to repurpose waste materials to create fabrics.

Meanwhile, Adidas, the world-renowned sportswear manufacturer, produces over 400 million pairs of shoes annually. However, this vast amount of production requires significant resources, and the constant creation of new materials is not sustainable for the environment. To address this concern, Adidas is exploring alternative sources of raw materials.

Environmental experts predict that by 2050, plastic pollution in the ocean will exceed the number of fish. A recent study also estimates that 90% of seabirds have consumed plastic waste in some form. This pollution on beaches and oceans is not only harmful to marine life but also poses a risk to human health. To mitigate this issue, Adidas partnered with Parley for the Oceans, an environmental organization, in 2015. Their mission is to convert marine plastic waste into sportswear. The collaboration has made significant strides in this regard.

In 2019, Adidas aims to produce 11 million pairs of shoes using recycled ocean plastic, which is more than double the output of 2018. The partnership claims to have prevented approximately 2,810 tons of plastic from reaching the oceans. But how do they manufacture these shoes?

It all starts at the beach, where Parley and its associates collect debris from coastal areas such as the Maldives. The waste is carefully sorted, and the plastic is sent to an Adidas processing plant. Adidas uses plastic bottles containing polyethylene terephthalate (PET), while the caps and rings are sent to traditional recycling facilities.

The processing plant then crushes, washes, and dehydrates the waste, reducing it to small plastic flakes. These flakes are heated, dried, and cooled, then transformed into small resin pellets. Adidas melts these pellets to create a filament that they call Ocean Plastic, a form of polyester yarn. Adidas uses Ocean Plastic to make the upper part of shoes and clothing, such as jerseys. Each item in the Parley collection consists of at least 75% intercepted marine trash. Despite using recycled polyester, the Parley collection still meets Adidas’ high performance and comfort standards. Recycled polyester requires less water and fewer chemicals, making it an environmentally friendly alternative to virgin polyester.

Adidas aims to replace all virgin polyester with recycled polyester by 2024, with over 40% of its current apparel using recycled polyester. Adidas’ recycled sportswear has already made an appearance in college football, baseball, the NHL, the Australian Open, and other major events. However, washing polyester clothing may release microfibers that end up in the ocean. Adidas suggests that customers wash their clothes less frequently, use cold water, and wash full loads each time.

Adidas is also working on a new 100% recyclable shoe, called the Futurecraft Loop. The shoe is designed to be completely recyclable, and customers can return the shoe to the manufacturer to be broken down and remade into a brand-new pair. Adidas plans to launch the Futurecraft Loop in 2021.