Adidas is releasing the first sneaker made from repurposed ocean waste later this year. This is the latest step in a wide ranging plan to improve the company’s social and environmental footprint.

The brand developed a process for culling ocean plastic pollution and turning it into yarns and filaments for a flexible sports shoe and other apparel. While the product line will be ready for purchase in 2016, it’s still mostly a symbolic gesture that demonstrates the brand’s willingness to curb its environmental impact.

Plastic pollution is becoming an increasingly dire problem for the world’s oceans. Each year, 8 million tons, or 16 billion pounds (7.2 billion kilograms) of plastic enter the world’s oceans. There are about 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic in the oceans today.

Image: Ray Boland, NOAA

Big pieces of plastic are routinely ingested by animals who then face a range of health problems. As plastic breaks down it leaches toxic chemicals into the water and deteriorates into small debris that are ingested by organisms up and down the food chain.

Other threats facing the world’s oceans include overfishing, water acidification and the destruction of coral reefs.

The new athletic shoe made from recycled plastic is one of the more tangible efforts Adidas is making to combat pollution in their supply chain. Adidas’s latest sustainability report was the most thorough to date, exploring the state of oceans and touching on a broad range of issues such as water conservation, worker rights and recyclable materials.

The brand is trying to eliminate non-recyclable materials from its supply chains and shift towards crops (like cotton) cultivated with less pesticides.

According to WWD, “The ultimate goal is to create infinitely recyclable materials that have the exact same properties as new raw materials and Adidas is slowly closing in on its target.”

Toxic dyes and other chemicals are also being purged from Adidas’ product lines. By the end of 2015, long-chain perfluorinated compounds were stripped from all products.

To save water, Adidas is experimenting with waterless dye techniques that have the added benefit of reducing water pollution.

Cutting down on waste in general is another focus. A new sewing technique saved the company millions of apparel and shoe samples between 2011 and 2015.

Finally, the brand is trying to improve working conditions in its factories throughout the world.

As a sign of its commitment, the brand rejected 101 factories in 2015 because they didn’t live up to standards.     

Across industries, major corporations seem to be accepting more responsibility in the fight against climate change. A lot more has to be done before the clothing industry, in particular, can be considered environmentally friendly, but each brand that commits to reducing emissions, saving water and recycling is helping to reform global standards.


Defend the Planet

Adidas Teases First-Ever Sneaker Made From Ocean Plastic

By Joe McCarthy