How Adidas Uses Plastics Found in the Ocean for New Gear

Courtesy of Adidas

German sportswear maker Adidas is finding a home for wasteful ocean plastic: in your running shoes and soccer jerseys.

On Friday, Adidas unveiled the first performance products—soccer jerseys and running shoes—that the company has mass produced with plastic found in our oceans. The materials come from clean-up operations led by Parley for the Oceans, which is an ocean protection organization that seeks corporate partners like Adidas to find a home for plastic pollution found in the world’s oceans.

The plastic that was found off the coastal shores of the Maldives have been repurposed and used in a 7,000 pair run of UltraBOOST running shoes that feature 95% ocean plastic for the knitted upper portion of the shoe. The rest is made with recycled polyester. The design of those shoes is meant to evoke ocean waves.

Meanwhile, soccer jerseys that use the plastic will be worn by the Real Madrid squad when it plays Real Sporting de Gijón later this month. Eric Liedtke, responsible for global brands at Adidas, claims that the jerseys will be the first to be made completely from materials found in oceans.

The move to incorporate more plastic waste into athletic apparel and footwear is part of a broader promise by Adidas to make 1 million pairs of shoes using Parley Ocean plastic next year. With that target in mind, Adidas says it will mean at least 11 million bottles will be retrieved from coastal areas for recycling purposes in the company’s wares.

Soccer jerseys made from ocean plastics will be worn by Real Madrid during a game on November 26.
Courtesy of Adidas

Adidas and Nike (NKE) are among the shoe manufacturers that have sought to experiment with different manufacturing processes as a way to reuse wasteful materials in newer products that can be sold to consumers. For example, Adidas earlier this year unveiled a series of six sustainability targets it hopes to achieve over the next several years, including promises to reduce water and paper usage and switching to sustainable cotton. It also removed plastic shopping bags from thousands of the company’s global retail stores.

And while Adidas is targeting more aggressive use of recycled polyester and sustainable cotton down the road, for now, most of these eco-friendly production runs are relatively tiny. Consider the goal to create 1 million pairs of UltraBOOST running shoes using ocean plastic next year. That’s a slim piece of the Adidas business considering the corporation’s suppliers produced about 301 million pairs of shoes in 2015.

Still, the news on Friday is significant because it is the first line of performance apparel and footwear to debut since the partnership between Adidas and Parley for the Oceans was first announced in April 2015. That pact led Adidas to rethink some long-established business practices, most notably the move to stop using plastic shopping bags at the company’s stores.

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