One man’s trash is another man’s treasure? Nope, it turns out, one man’s trash is another man’s shoe! The list of recycled products include soap bottles, surfboards and now shoes: Genius inventors at Adidas have just released a new prototype for a sneaker woven entirely out of ocean trash – just like walking on water?
The sample shoe was made from illegal gill nets dredged up from the ocean by the nonprofit Sea Shepherd. “It’s a fishing net that was spanning the bottom of the sea like a wall, and killing pretty much every fish passing by,” says Cyrill Gutsch, founder of Parley for the Oceans, a new Adidas-supported nonprofit that is helping the company develop a larger strategy for fighting ocean waste. “They confiscated this net, and we’re bringing it back to life.”
Adidas is knitting the shoe by using the same creative technology used to create Primeknit shoes with zero waste. “Knitting in general eliminates waste, because you don’t have to cut out the patterns like on traditional footwear,” says Eric Liedtke, Adidas Group executive board member of global brands. “We use what we need for the shoe and waste nothing.”
Liedtke says they have no worries about finding enough to supply the line of shoes when it launches later this year. They won’t be using the tiny fragments of plastic that swirl, soup-like, in places like the Pacific Gyre, though that could change as new technology becomes available. “If you want to take it out of the ocean, you can trawl for days and days and get a tiny spoonful of plastic,” Gutsch says. “At this point we didn’t see a feasible technology. What we believe now is that you can instead avoid the microplastic that’s coming into the system.”
The bigger goal of this initiative is not just to recycle plastic into shoes, but to help avoid plastic waste in the first place. Parley for the Oceans is working on new technology both to intercept plastic trash—and to change plastic itself.
“We’re going to end ocean plastic pollution only if we’re going to reinvent the material,” says Gutsch. “We need a plastic that is not the current plastic—it’s a design failure. It causes a lot of problems. Plastic doesn’t belong in nature, it doesn’t belong in the belly of a fish, it doesn’t belong out there. The ultimate solution is to cut into this ongoing stream of material that never dies, is to reinvent plastic.” Because without a reinvention, the plastic still exists in your shoe, which, presumably, you’ll throw out again at some point, putting the plastic back into the system—and potentially the ocean.
A green chemist on the organization’s staff is starting work on a project which employs plastic alternative that could dissolve harmlessly if ever thrown out into nature. “That’s the ultimate vision, but it’s a moonshot,” he says. “Right now it’s far away. So we do what we can. That means we’re going out there and cleaning up as much as we can. We’re saving life. Every piece of plastic that we collect, every single piece, can save a bird, a turtle, even a whale.”
As Adidas adapts the material, it may eventually start to include it in other products. “We don’t have to limit ourselves,” says Lietke. “We can put this in T-shirts, we can put this in shorts, we can put this in all kinds of stuff.”