A high-profile program to recycle materials from used sneakers into running tracks, playgrounds and sports fields is facing new questions after reporters from Reuters tracked donated shoes to a second-hand market in Indonesia
The program, backed by Dow Inc. and the Singapore government, was intended to harvest the shoes' elastomers and give them a different life. Reuters reporters in Singapore placed 11 sneakers in donation bins, but outfitted them first with a Bluetooth tracker hidden inside the sole. But none of the shoes ended up in the recycling stream. One pair ended up at a second-hand market in Indonesia where Reuters found it.
"Reuters tracked the 11 pairs of shoes over a six-month period," Reuters said in its Feb. 25 story. "All the footwear was placed in different donation barrels around Singapore between July 14 and Sept. 9 of last year. While the sample was small, the fact that none of these shoes made it to a Singapore recycling facility underscores weaknesses in the system."
Reuters said it presented its findings to Dow, a Midland, Mich., chemical giant, in January. Dow and its partners told Reuters Feb. 22 that it had removed one of the companies that was supposed to collect shoes as a result of its investigation.
"The project partners do not condone any unauthorized removal or export of shoes collected through this program and remain committed to safeguarding the integrity of the collection and recycle process," Dow told Reuters for its story.