The 2012 Olympic games in London provided a platform for more than athletes. For Nike Inc., it was also a chance to show how far — and how fast — plastics recycling could go.
On the basketball court, the gold-medal-winning Team USA wore shorts and jerseys made from polyester recycled from an average of 22 PET water bottles.
On the track, full-body speed suits from Beaverton, Ore.-based Nike used an average of 13 water bottles' worth of polyester, while Kenya's Abel Kirui wore a shirt made from the equivalent of three water bottles on his way to a silver medal at the Olympics.
Though recycled PET has been used in polyester textiles for years, the demands for elite-performance athletes are far different, according to Scott Williams, Nike's creative director for sports innovation and the Olympics. At the Olympics level, any change to materials or design raises issues that weekend athletes may not even notice, Williams said during the Industrial Designers Society of America annual meeting, held Aug. 15-18 in Boston.
Nike's Pro TurboSpeed track suit, for instance, was created for premium aerodynamics, capable of allowing the runner to finish a 100-meter run 0.023 second faster with the suit than without it, according to the company. That fraction of a second can be the difference between winning a medal and coming away empty-handed.
“Elite athletes demand high-performance technology that delivers every time they train and race,” said Martin Lotti, Nike global design director for the Olympics.
Nike's first recycled PET shirts were worn by two runners at the Sydney Olympics in 2000, but the firm's first big push into post-consumer recycled polyester — part of its “Considered” program — came during the Beijing Olympics in 2008.
At Beijing, the track and field athletes from 17 countries wore uniforms from recycled PET. At the 2011 European soccer championships, every team used uniforms made with recycled polyester.
“Considered” products went into 82 percent of the track uniforms in London, Nike said.