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OrthoLite Steps Toward Circularity with Eco Hybrid

OrthoLite’s new product launch could help the footwear industry take another step toward a more circular economy.

At The Materials Show in Portland, Oregon, Wednesday, the foam and insole manufacturer launched Eco Hybrid, a foam made from upcycled scraps from its own production floor.

OrthoLite collects scraps of foam, grinds the waste down into small pieces and blends it with virgin foam. The result is a product that contains 15 percent pre-consumer recycled foam, 5 percent recycled rubber and 80 percent proprietary open-cell foam. The innovation uses less petroleum and less energy, while adding less to the landfill, too.

The foam offers all the comfort consumers expect with the eco-friendly features they demand. Skip Lei, OrthoLite VP of innovation and strategic partnerships, said Eco Hybrid performs on the same level as other OrthoLite products and is price neutral—a factor that was key in its development.

With its speckled appearance, Eco Hybrid visually tells a sustainable story to the end user, while elevating brands’ overall eco messages. Eco Hybrid is ideal for a wide range of applications where cushioning and performance are critical—including insole, strobel and upper applications.

The hybrid formulation creates a cooler, drier environment inside the footwear, so consumers can feel and perform their best.

[Read more about sustainable footwear: Why Footwear Trails Apparel When it Comes to Sustainable Supply Chains]

As a fully vertical company, Lei said OrthoLite has the control and know-how to take its products to higher levels of sustainability.

“We can use and reuse our materials. Other vendors can’t. The degree of difficulty is higher for them,” he explained, adding that a 100 percent recycled foam is in the pipeline.

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As the industry leader in insoles and foam, Lei said OrthoLite is always looking at product and innovation from a sustainability perspective. The company has used recycled rubber in every insole it has ever made, keeping roughly 300 metric tons of rubber from entering landfills each year.

Beyond product, OrthoLite’s worldwide manufacturing facilities are equipped with advanced air purification systems, solar energy systems to heat water and water treatments that allow the company to reuse wastewater. As an alternative to ordinary polybags, which take hundreds of years to decompose, OrthoLite packs its products in bags made with calcium carbonate from natural limestone. The waterproof and tear resistant bags biodegrade in 10 to 12 months. It also transports goods in 100 percent recyclable and reusable boxes, reducing its use of cardboard.

So far, the industry’s response to Eco Hybrid is positive. The major athletic suppliers and boot companies are searching for sustainable components, Lei said.

“The uber trends show that everyone is moving toward recycling and sustainability,” he said. “Brands want this. We’re just one part of a shoe, but we’re always looking to make it better.”