Adidas unveils running shoes that never have to be thrown away


The Futurecraft Loop performance running shoes can be returned to Adidas, where they will be ground up to make more shoes, again and again.

So, recycling is a mess. Manufacturers have sold us on the idea that it’s the consumer’s responsibility to recycle the manufacturer’s product, ostensibly relieving the manufacturer of responsibility for all the trash their products generate. Meanwhile, despite many of us trying our best to uphold our end of the deal, recycling is complicated – and in the end, 91 percent of plastic, for example, is not recycled.

Given plastic’s nearly eternal durability, it’s little wonder that we’re finding it literally everywhere on the planet. And we keep making new plastic at a prodigious rate – National Geographic notes that “If present trends continue, by 2050, there will be 12 billion metric tons of plastic in landfills.”

As consumers we can stop consuming things made of and packaged in plastic, but manufacturers have to address the issue from the top – quite simply, the time has come.

Which brings us to Adidas.

I was invited to the unveiling of the company’s revolutionary new performance running shoe, the Futurecraft Loop – and to be honest, I was a bit skeptical. Billed as a 100 percent recyclable shoe …. well, we’ve heard claims like this before (hello Starbucks, hi there Keurig).

But I have to say, I am impressed. Yes, the mystical/futuristic event in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, complete with a fog machine and Willow Smith (who is partnering with Adidas on the project), left some stars in my eyes – but I left feeling genuinely excited about the future of the Futurecraft Loop.

© Adidas | Willow Smith and Adidas have partnered on the fully recyclable shoe.

Adidas is no stranger to sustainability innovations. In 2015, the company partnered with Parley for the Oceans to create shoes whose uppers were made entirely of yarns and filaments reclaimed and recycled from marine plastic waste and illegal deep-sea gillnets. This year, they will produce 11 million pairs of these wonderfully “trashy” shoes through intercepting plastic waste on beaches, remote islands and in coastal communities.

At the Futurecraft Loop event, Eric Liedtke, Executive Board Member at Adidas and head of Global Brands, said that an “army of innovators” had been working on the new shoe for more than six years – and described how much of a challenge it was. These are performance shoes, afterall, and have many parts that need to best serve the athlete/wearer.

What has made the recycling of shoes – and most things – difficult is that the various materials of an item need to be separated prior to recycling. How did Adidas solve this problem? They figured out how to make the shoe with a single material (100 percent reusable thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU)) – and it is constructed without the use of adhesives or other chemicals. The TPU is spun to yarn, knitted, molded and clean-fused to a midsole.

Once the user is done with the shoes, they are returned to Adidas, where they are washed, ground to pellets and melted into material for components for a new pair of shoes, with zero waste and nothing thrown away.

© Melissa Breyer | Design process

“Futurecraft Loop is our first running shoe that is made to be remade,” said Liedtke. “It is a statement of our intent to take responsibility for the entire life of our product; proof that we can build high-performance running shoes that you don’t have to throw away.”

Liedtke also says that the company is aiming to be using only recycled polyester in all of their products by 2024.

“Taking plastic waste out of the system is the first step, but we can’t stop there,” said Liedtke. “What happens to your shoes after you’ve worn them out? You throw them away – except there is no away. There are only landfills and incinerators and ultimately an atmosphere choked with excess carbon, or oceans filled with plastic waste. The next step is to end the concept of “waste” entirely. Our dream is that you can keep wearing the same shoes over and over again.”

For now, the first generation Futurecraft Loop has been rolled out as part of a “global beta program with 200 leading Creators from across the world’s major cities,” to take the shoes for a spin. This was the part of the event where 200 pairs of sneakers magically appeared – I was wondering why they wanted my shoe size beforehand.

© Melissa Breyer

Now those of us with the shoes will put them to the test before returning them with feedback ahead of the second generation drop. The target for the wider release is Spring Summer 2021. In the meantime, I am planning on testing mine hard … and finding solace in the fact that this will be just one of the many lives they’ll lead. Stay tuned for more…

More at Adidas.