SEX and style still sell in the multi-billion-pound trainer industry – but for many consumers, footwear now has to save the planet too.
For decades, big brands have been leaving a huge carbon footprint, with six billion pairs produced annually — 90 per cent of which end up in landfill and take up to 1,000 years to degrade.
That is why the biggest names have spent vast sums on glossy adverts featuring beautiful people in beautiful locations wearing “eco” goods made with recycled materials.
But a new documentary on Channel 4 on Monday reveals how it is merely “greenwashing” designed to make the likes of Nike and Adidas more money — and far from reducing the production of plastic, they could actually be boosting it.
Reporter Darcy Thomas said: “With consumers more environmentally aware than ever, trainer brands have promised to clean up their act. Slick promos create a vision of an eco-friendly future.
“When it comes to protecting the environment, every trainer brand promises the earth, but there are no easy solutions — except maybe buying fewer trainers.”
‘Degraded by the sun’
The UK now spends nearly £4billion a year on trainers and the average person here owns seven pairs.
Dispatches documentary The Truth About Nike And Adidas shows how the big names suggest our hunger for trainers is not just the problem but the solution.
Adidas boasts in adverts about creating footwear — costing £75 a pair — using plastics that have been retrieved from our polluted seas by environmental group Parley For The Oceans.
But Darcy worked out that less than 20 per cent of the upper part of the trainers in its Parley collection is made from recycled plastic — and little of it actually comes from the ocean.
He said: “Parley does collect some plastic that’s been washed up on the beach. But most of this plastic can’t be made into trainers because it’s too degraded by the sun and the sea.
“It says the plastic is intercepted from beaches and coastal communities before it reaches the oceans.
“In other words, this is plastic that ‘might’ have ended up in the ocean.”
As part of the investigation, Darcy travelled to the Maldives, where the Parley venture is based due to the island nation’s significance in the global marine ecosystem.
One of the country’s environmental campaigners, plastics expert Afrah Ismail, said: “The greenwashing element is there because you’re saying it’s ocean plastic and, to the layman, that essentially means it comes from the ocean.”
In fact, he discovered that in some cases the Parley organisation was getting its plastics direct from tourist resorts in the Maldives, where plastic bottles of all shapes and sizes are liberally used in its bars and restaurants.
He travelled to one of its biggest resorts and discovered that it was part of the same business that owned a factory making bottled water on the island.
In other words, the partnership between Parley and certain resorts appeared to be fuelling the creation of more plastic.
A spokesman for Adidas said: “The use of recycled materials at Adidas is far more than our products made with Parley.
“More than 90 per cent of the polyester used in our entire product range is recycled polyester.
“We don’t talk about this being ‘the solution’. In fact, we actively say it is only a first step. This is made clear across our website and through our marketing.
“We are building up the recycled materials percentage in our products as more solutions become available.”
But Adidas is not the only brand that uses recycled plastic in surprisingly small amounts.
Other big names including Puma and Asics were also shown to use about 20 per cent of their materials from recycled sources.
Other brands have managed a better balance, including French trainers Veja, which use materials that are between 30 and 100 per cent made from recycled polyester and recycled plastic bottles.
Any cotton or other fabrics it uses are often organic or recycled, and it has developed a “vegan” material to replace elements of trainers that would normally be made from leather or plastic.
On the downside, they are more expensive, ranging from £95 to £120.
Meanwhile, Nike has taken a different approach to recycling. It introduced an initiative called Grind, where people can bring in their trainers to be ground up and re-formed into materials for playground surfaces and sports courts.
‘Just throw it in the bin’
It is already a questionable venture. The documentary reveals that most of the Grind material actually comes from industrial waste, not old trainers.
And the £130million of Grind material produced over the last 30 years represents just 0.01 per cent of the weight of new trainers produced annually.
Darcy also got a shock when he approached the manager at the NikeTown flagship store in London and was told they no longer recycle old trainers.
He said: “In fact, no store in the UK accepts recycling trainers.
“Nike Grind actually hasn’t been running in the UK for years now.
“They suggest I take my trainers to a charity shop because otherwise they’ll just throw them in the bin.”
As a result of the Dispatches programme, Nike has taken the Grind offer down from its UK website.
A spokesman for Nike said: “Our recycling and donation programme is currently available in 78 stores in Europe and we’re working to drive further scale.
“The programme is not currently available in the UK due to cross-border trade complexities that limit our ability to move product to our main recycling and sorting facility in the EU."
- The Truth About Nike And Adidas is on Channel 4 on Monday at 8.30pm.
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