Journalists hid trackers in old shoes to test a Dow recycling program

  • Reuters tracking 11 donation pairs shoes to test a recycling program launched by Dow and Singapore.
  • Most ended up in markets or remote areas of Indonesia, which banned second-hand clothing imports in 2015.
  • Dow launched its own investigation and removed an exporter from the recycling program.

In 2021, the American chemical company Dow and the government of Singapore have promised to turn rubber from old shoes into surfaces for playgrounds and running tracks.

This is not what happened to 11 pairs of sneakers in which a team of Reuters journalists hid tracking devices. After dropping off the shoes in the program’s recycling bins across Singapore, Reuters traced most of the shoes to second-hand markets or remote locations in Indonesia.

The news service hid Bluetooth trackers in the insoles of sneakers, then tracked the shoes for months on a smartphone app that showed their movements in real time.

Reuters said it wanted to check whether Dow’s program was meeting its stated goals because the major plastics maker had failed to deliver on previous recycling promises. Environmental groups accuse chemical companies like Dow of making false promises about plastic recycling to convince the public that the disposable consumer culture is sustainable, as well as pushing back against tougher regulations on items like single-use plastic packaging. unique.

Dow completed its own investigation along with other program sponsors after Reuters reported its findings.

As part of its investigation, Dow removed a used goods exporter in Singapore, Yok Impex Pte Ltd., from the program. The exporter’s logistics manager told Reuters he was hired to collect shoes from donation bins and deliver them to a waste management company involved in the shoe recycling program. Instead, 10 pairs were moved to the exporter’s own facilities and then to Indonesia, neighboring Singapore. The logistics manager said that was a mistake.

Dow did not tell Reuters why a used clothing exporter was hired for the program in the first place, or how many shoes were collected and recycled through the program. A 2021 press release said the program was intended to divert 170,000 pairs of shoes per year from landfills.

The company told Reuters the shoe recycling program is making progress, citing two sports facilities under construction in Singapore that are ready to use materials from old shoes in their surfaces.

“Project partners do not tolerate any unauthorized removal or export of footwear collected through this program,” Dow spokesperson Kyle Bandlow told Insider in an email. He said Dow and its program partners were working to find another company to handle the collection of the shoes. Bandlow also said the program recovered nearly 10,000 kilograms — or about 22,000 pounds — of recycled shoe materials.

In 2015, Indonesia banned the import of used clothes and shoes to protect its local textile industry and preserve public hygiene. But an illegal second-hand market continues to proliferate, Reuters found, compounding the country’s growing waste problem.

A small percentage of used clothes can get a second life, while the rest end up in landfills, according to the Global Alliance for Alternatives to Incinerators, a nonprofit that campaigns for waste prevention.

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