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Footwear Recycling and Reuse Draws New Investments

Makers of performance shoes are seeking to increase the longevity of their products through recycling and resale partnerships. Swiss performance footwear brand On last week announced a plan to slash its carbon footprint with a new solution for unwanted shoes.

The brand, which earlier this summer officially launched its recyclable footwear subscription service, has debuted a resale microsite and online trade-in program for its running shoes. Powered by re-commerce facilitator Trove, the “Onward” program underscores the company’s mission to extend the useful life of its products and keep them out of landfills, longer. While the program launched with footwear, the company said it aims to add apparel to the offering soon.

The initiative enables consumers to send back their good-condition sneakers in exchange for a $35 credit to be spent on Onward pre-owned products or items from the main assortment. “With the launch of Onward, we are giving our customers more access to groundbreaking products, while giving our products an extended lifespan at the same standard of quality,” said On Running co-founder Caspar Coppetti. “Exploring innovative partnerships with companies like Trove is a key step in becoming a more circular company by the end of the decade.”

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The microsite launched Thursday with 675 men’s and women’s sneakers styles designed for road and trail running as well as hiking and general activity. Shoppers can filter results by condition, with some items characterized as “basically perfect,” or free from any signs of wear. Those seeking to trade in their unwanted shoes can fill out a form to receive a shipping label. On charges $5 for shipping and handling.

Trove CEO Gayle Tait said that On’s “sustainability-focused, high-performance designs” are helping to address the industry’s environmental challenges. Trove’s re-commerce operating system, which handles processes ranging from collection to front-end online sales and fulfillment, powers on-site resale platforms for brands including Arc’teryx, Eileen Fisher, Levi’s, Lululemon, Patagonia and REI. “We are proud to power the Onward program to offer a convenient way for customers to trade in and shop for preloved On gear and to support the brand’s efforts to build a fully circular product lifecycle,” Tait added.

Meanwhile, French sporting goods and footwear retailers Decathlon and Groupe Eram have teamed with recycling firm ReValorem and Germany retailer Zalando to invest in an industry pilot dubbed “Reshoes,” which aims to recycle footwear components for reuse.

The four partners invest 1 million euros, about equivalent in dollars, to the platform hosted by footwear and apparel recycling technology hub Cetia. The project aims to identify and develop efficient systems and technology for deconstructing footwear and processing its fabrics, foams and other inputs. The pilot program is working on processing 1,000 pairs of shoes per day en route to scaling a model for industry-wide use. Reshoes will debut its findings in March 2023.

Cetia director Chloé Salmon Legagneur said that the barriers to recycling footwear have long proven too complex for the industry to overcome. The company wants to unite key players to remove technological hurdles. Reshoes aims to “appeal to all brands and manufacturers to join this movement and strengthen its capabilities of innovation for the benefit of sustainable transition in the sector,” she said.

Encouraging the industry to adopt more circular models for creating product is a part of Zalando’s sustainable development strategy, according to Laura Coppen, head of circularity for the European marketplace e-tailer. Supporting and pioneering initiatives in France through Reshoes will help Zalando reach its overall goals. “With our contribution to the Reshoes program, Zalando engages in a local partnership aimed at accelerating the separation of the components of the shoe and its eventual recycling,” Coppen said.

A shoe’s multi-material construction makes it difficult to separate and recycle at end of life, according to Decathlon sustainable footwear and development manager Clémence Goubet. The maker and distributor of performance footwear is working to reduce its impact by designing for longevity and investing in circular solutions. Cetia’s recycling automation and industrialization program stands to become an asset to the sector, she believes. “Through it, we will be able to better design the shoes of tomorrow, for example by upgrading recycled raw materials in order to limit our consumption of resources,” she added.

“While oil-based raw materials see their prices skyrocket, recycling polymers from shoe soles is a tremendous opportunity to decarbonization but also price stability,” ReValorem president Eric Legent added. The company, which largely recycles unsold luxury products into usable raw materials, plans to use the pilot’s findings to inform and improve its operations.