Given the various materials used and often complex ways they stitch together, it has always been a difficult prospect to fully recycle footwear.
That hasn’t stopped brands from trying though. Salomon worked for three years developing the Index.01, a “ready-to-recycle” performance running shoe comprised of just two materials: a recycled polyester upper and nitrogen-infused thermoplastic polyurethane-based foam bottom. Adidas has spent multiple years experimenting with circular sneakers, as well, sending its Futurecraft.Loop and Ultraboost DNA Loop to select loyalty members to test in the real world. Startups like the minimalist brand Glyph also have been pursuing circularity, going so far as to offer customers a discount on their next purchase should they send in their old pair to be recycled.
Teva announced Wednesday that it too is getting into the recyclable footwear game. The Deckers-owned brand didn’t spend years experimenting with materials to create a single circular style, however. Instead, the new program instantly encompasses the brand’s entire sandal collection.
Through the TevaForever Recycling Program, customers can download a prepaid shipping label from Teva’s website and mail their sandals to TerraCycle, the footwear brand’s recycling partner, at no extra cost. For now, previously worn sandals will be used by manufacturers to make playgrounds, athletic fields and track ground cover, but Anders Bergstrom, vice president and general manager at Teva, said the plan is to begin testing multigenerational recycling and reuse next.
“It’s impossible to test that with any degree of statistical significance unless you have a program like we’re about to launch with TerraCycle,” Bergstrom said. “So, we’ll not only be ahead in our operationalizing and socializing a recycling program with our audience, but we’ll also be ahead in our ability to [research and develop] how we can bring those inputs back into our supply chain.”
According to Tom Szaky, TerraCycle’s CEO, Teva was uniquely positioned to easily implement its recycling program for two reasons: simplicity and quality.
The first important thing Teva did, Szaky explained, was to simplify the materials used. “You use more or fewer materials than less of more materials and that is way better from someone sitting in my point of view because it’s less work to take them all apart,” he said. On top of that, he added, the higher-quality materials Teva relies on allow for TerraCycle to sell the recycled material at a better price.
“If it was a different performance shoe company coming to us, we would have said, ‘We’d love to [collaborate], but you need to redesign your shoes in this way, that way and the other way for us to even have a chance to be able to recycle them,’ and that wasn’t necessary here,” Szaky said.
Szaky also highlighted the importance of Teva making the recycling process free for consumers. “Even the best shoe costs more to collect and process than the results are worth,” he said. “We can call that sort of owning the externalities.”
Teva’s sandal recycling program arrives during Earth Month and just a year after it transitioned its straps to recycled plastic yarn. Since then, it said, it has diverted more than 40.2 million plastic bottles, equal to 755 tons of post-consumer plastic. In the near term, Bergstrom said, Teva plans to continue working on using the “best possible” recycled and sustainable materials.
The brand also introduced improvements to its packaging in 2017, which has saved 348 million gallons of water and reduced the total weight of packaging by 4.1 million pounds, it claims.