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At COP21, German multinational Adidas unveiled a unique concept shoe made from reclaimed ocean plastic. The product of the lifestyle company’s new partnership with Parley for the Oceans, the shoe is intended to raise awareness about the state of ocean pollution. Planet Experts got a good look at it at the Parley for the Oceans event held during the second week of the COP.

The Adidas-Parley for the Oceans concept shoe. (Photo courtesy of Adidas)

The Adidas-Parley for the Oceans concept shoe. (Photo courtesy of Adidas)

Creating a Culture of Collaboration

“Our oceans are about to collapse and there is not much time left to turn it around,” said Cyrill Gutsch, founder of Parley for the Oceans. “Nobody can solve this alone. Everyone has to be part of the solution.”

In a press release, Gutsch expressed his enthusiasm for this new partnership with Adidas. “There is no other brand that carries the culture of collaboration in the DNA like Adidas,” he said. “Together, we will not only focus on creating the next generation of design concepts, technologies, materials and products. We will also engage consumers, athletes, artists, designers, actors, musicians, scientists and environmentalists to raise their voice and contribute their skills for the ocean cause.”

The shoe consists of an upper section made with ocean plastic content and a midsole that is 3D-printed using recycled ocean waste and gill nets.

“2015 is our year, the year of the Oceans: the ocean movement successfully brought the cause onto the COP21 agenda in Paris,” said Gutsch. At COP21, the UN listed “life below water” as one of its 17 sustainable development goals.

(Photo courtesy of Adidas)

The shoe’s midsole is 3D-printed using recycled polyester and gill net content. (Photo courtesy of Adidas)

What Our Experts Are Saying

The 5 Gyres Institute, a non-profit organization dedicated to the elimination of plastic waste, has expressed cautious optimism about the message Adidas is sending. Back in July, the org applauded the company’s “innovation and creativity on the long road to plastic pollution solutions,” but disliked the media narrative that the shoes will “clean up the oceans.”

Ocean Garbage

Ocean garbage (Image: Creative Commons)

“Let’s be clear,” 5 Gyres wrote in a blog, “no amount of turning plastic into shoes, jeans, wallets or other consumer products is going to clean up our oceans. Ocean dynamics quickly shred larger plastics into microplastics, becoming plastic smog, which is essentially irretrievable.”

As a way to ensure the shoes do not end right back in the ocean, 5 Gyres suggests Adidas present “the end of life plan for these shoes once they’ve run their course.” Lisa Kaas Boyle, Director of World Surf League’s P*U*R*E (Progressive Understanding and Responsibility for the Environment) and a co-founder of the Plastic Pollution Coalition, has also called on Adidas to “walk the talk” and counter media headlines that present the shoe as the “solution to plastic pollution” rather than a means to raise awareness. 

It is in this respect that 5 Gyres commends the gill net shoe for its simple and stylish message. “If [Adidas’] master plan is to use the shoes as a touchpoint to inspire people to consume less,” they wrote, “reduce their plastic footprint, and take other actions to stop single use plastics, then we’re intrigued – can a major brand that relies on purchasing inspire people to adopt less consumeristic habits?”

This is where Adidas has met and exceeded 5 Gyres’ expectations. The sportswear company is turning inward and reducing plastic in its supply chain.

It’s Not Just About Shoes

Adidas is moving forward on two progressive initiatives to remove plastic from their supply chain. By Q1 of 2016, the company plans to remove plastic bags from its shops and partner with sustainable packaging organizations. In late December, it will end the use of plastic microbeads across all its body care products.

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