As plastic continues to pile up in the world’s oceans, several fashion brands are upcycling it into their products. While companies like Outerknown are built entirely up sustainability, others use recycled materials only in select products. With its Adidas x Parley collection, Adidas falls comfortably into the second category, but could be doing a lot worse in terms of sustainability.
Interested in sustainable footwear? Check out these five shoe brands to lighten your footprints.
Adidas’ sustainability efforts
In 2015, Adidas teamed up with Parley for the Oceans to create a shoe that incorporated yarn made from recovered ocean plastic and illegal deep-sea fishing gillnets. They unveiled a prototype at the 2015 “Oceans. Climate. Life.” talks hosted by the United Nations.
Since then, the Adidas x Parley collection has grown to 103 items and Adidas has increased its sustainability efforts. In 2016, Adidas cut out 70 million plastics bags by switching to paper in its stores. It manufactured five million pairs of Parley shoes in 2018 and is shooting for 11 million in 2019. It has also set some aggressive sustainability goals, along with some rather vague ones.
Adidas’s notable sustainability goals:
- Switch to 100% recycled polyester in every product “where a solution exists” by 2024.
- Expand supply chain for Parley Ocean Plastic.
- 100% sustainable cotton by 2018 (Adidas ranked 4th on the Better Cotton Initative’s Better Cotton Leaderboard in 2018 after using 90% Better Cotton.)
- LEED certification for new corporate construction projects.
- 50% waste diversion at owned operations.
- Adopt the ZDHC Manufacturing Restricted Substances List to achieve 100% sustainable input chemistry.
It’s always good to see big companies take responsibility for their environmental impact with measurable goals. Even better is seeing a global trend-setter like Adidas incorporate recycled plastic into their products. According to its product page, a single pair of $125 TERREX Two Parley trail running shoes “keeps approximately 11 plastic bottles out of our oceans.”
Here’s the tricky part…
Based on a 2011 study by Dr. Mark Browne et al., it seems washable clothes aren’t the ideal medium for this innovation. Published in Environmental Science & Technology, the study found that a single garment can produce more than 1,900 fibers per wash. It concludes that “a large proportion of microplastic fibers found in the marine environment may be derived from sewage as a consequence of washing of clothes.”
So where does that leave us? In terms of clothes, avoiding synthetic materials altogether is the best way to reduce microplastics. But for shoes, Adidas x Parley products aren’t a bad option, although Vivo Barefoot seems to have gone a step further with its Vegan Shoe collection.
Personally, I hope Adidas continues to use ocean plastics in shoes, jackets and other items that dont’ require frequent machine washing. If nothing else, Adidas’ partnership with Parley can improve infrastructure and awareness for ocean plastic recycling and upcycling. With any luck, other industries will catch on and produce long lasting items made from ocean plastic.
The best case scenario, however, would be for big brands like Adidas to move to sustainable, natural materials and avoid synthetics altogether. But I’m not going to hold my breath for that to happen.