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Adidas new shoe, made from discarded fishing nets. Cool? Yes. Ocean miracle? Not quite. (Image via 5 Gyres)

Adidas new shoe, made from discarded fishing nets. Cool? Yes. Ocean miracle? Not quite. (Image via 5 Gyres)

If you’re on Facebook and somewhat plugged into enviro news, you’ve probably read by now about the new shoes from Adidas that are made with discarded fishing nets, and seen the resulting media stampede.

We’re the first people to applaud innovation and creativity on the long road to plastic pollution solutions. But we do have a few suggestions for Adidas before lacing these ones up, and hope that they will be taking steps in this direction…

1) Messaging: Buying shoes ≠ ocean cleanup

Most of the articles we’ve read on this suggest these shoes are going to “clean up the oceans.”  Let’s be clear, 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.

If however the master plan is to use the shoes as a touchpoint to inspire people to consume less, 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? Maybe…

2) “What are we gonna do with all this stuff?”

– to quote Upstream Institute’s Executive Director Matt Prindiville, quoting recycling guru Arthur Boone.

Every product we buy brings another “thing” into our world, something that must go somewhere. If that object can’t be recycled, reused, or composted, it needs to go somewhere. We’ve seen “away” in our throwaway world, and it ain’t pretty.

So we’d like to know what the take back proposal is – the end of life plan for these shoes once they’ve run their course. Will they simply end up another lost sole in a landfill, or (god forbid) in an ocean gyre? Or is there a more sophisticated strategy in place, to retrieve these valuable materials and feed them back into the supply chain, feeding into a circular economy?

Were not saying there isn’t a plan, just that we’d love to read it. If it doesn’t yet exist, we – and many others – would love to encourage Adidas in this direction.

This is what throwing something "away" looks like. (Photo Credit: 5 Gyres)

This is what throwing something “away” looks like. (Photo Credit: 5 Gyres)

3) Where else is Adidas trimming their waste line?

Is this project inspiring Adidas to reduce their plastics use and packaging in other production areas? Is this public commitment to sustainability spilling over into their other product lines?

This is what we want to hear about!

4) And what about those microfibers?

Adidas group has no doubt read by now about the plastic microfibers issue. Just when we thought plastic beads in toothpaste was a shocker, we find out that washing our synthetic clothing (i.e. most everything we own other than our organic cotton, hemp, and bamboo items….) is actually contributing more microplastics to our waters than anything!

Adidas group is full of super smart designers, researchers, and engineers. Will this interest in ocean plastics result in some R&D to create new, non-polluting fibers, both throughout the production AND end use? And design better ways for all of these fibers to be recaptured, reused, and reintroduced into the supply chain?

Image: WikiMedia Commons

Image: WikiMedia Commons

Our opinions on this initiative are complex. We want and encourage bigger, influential corporations to get involved in solutions. They have an audience that most NGOs dream of.

But with this power comes responsibility. The messaging also needs to be responsible. And making people feel they are part of the solution by simply buying a product perpetuates the same consumerism that ultimately got us into this mess.

So our hope and our challenge to Adidas: can you use this media attention to do something truly radical and transformative? Engage your audience in a deeper understanding of the plastics issue, and taking action beyond the purchase of a product? We have lots of ideas here, lets talk….

What would YOU ask Adidas to do?

(This article originally appeared on 5 Gyres. It has been reprinted here with permission.)

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