Single-use plastics are the scourge of the Earth. Chug down a Coke or Pepsi, then throw the bottle away. Does that make any sense if the objective is to live in a sustainable society? Of course not. But we know economics rule virtually all business decisions in the weaponized version of capitalism that is the norm today. Discarded plastics have virtually no commercial value, so there is no incentive to collect and recycle them.
That may be changing. Adidas is one of the leaders in finding new, commercially viable uses for plastic waste, much of which is PET, short for polyethylene terephthalate. PET is a form of polyester, according to the PET Resin Association. It is extruded or molded into plastic bottles and containers for packaging foods and beverages, personal care products, and many other consumer products, and is frequently used for clothing as well.
Last week, Adidas announced its commitment to increasing the amount of recycled polyester (rPET) in its garments to 50% before the end of this year and to use only recycled polyester across its supply chain by 2024. Other apparel companies such as H&M, Patagonia, and Everlane are also getting into the rPET game, according to GreenBiz.
On its website, the company says it “will produce 15 to 20 million pairs of shoes using recycled plastic waste from beaches and coastal regions. Last year, the figure was more than eleven million pairs, compared to five million in 2018 and one million in 2017. In terms of climate protection, by 2030, Adidas will reduce greenhouse gas emissions from both its own activities and those of its suppliers by 30 percent compared to the year 2017. Climate neutrality is on the agenda for 2050. In Germany, the company already sources almost all its electricity from renewable sources.”
The production of recycled polyester requires 59% less energy than making new polyester while maintaining the same performance, aesthetic, and durability standards, says GreenBiz. That means there is an economic incentive in favor of recycled polyester. And that means at long last there may be enough profit in recycling to make it worthwhile to keep plastics out of landfills and the world’s oceans.
Which raises an interesting point. Soft drink and water companies are also getting into the recycled plastics game (far too late but that’s another story). Bridget Croke, managing director of the circular economy investment firm Closed Loop Partners, tells GreenBiz, “Broadly speaking, textile manufacturers and packaging manufacturers compete over the same materials. However, we have to treat recycled plastics like any other commodity. It’s dictated by supply, demand and geography.”
Alison Shapiro, executive director of Closed Loop, adds, “To compete, bottlers will need to offer long term purchase orders whose average price per ton exceeds the purchases offered by textile companies. Building concepts like price floors and price collars into contracts can help. These mechanisms have the added benefit of building in a minimum margin that allows [materials recovery facilities] to make capital improvements to improve yield and output, creating a virtuous loop.”
Competition between bottlers and apparel makers is just what is needed to turn plastic waste from a commodity nobody wants to one with real commercial value. That’s when the Earth can heave a sigh of relief as humans stop using it as a garbage dump.
1.8 Million Recycled Bottles Make New Football Field
Adidas is picking up the recycled plastic torch in other ways, too. James Carney, vice president of global brand strategy for Adidas, tells CNN the company has made a sustainable football field using 1.8 million plastic bottles recovered from remote islands, beaches, coastal communities, and shorelines. The plastic was washed and treated before it was transformed into infill, which was used to build an artificial field for Miami Edison High School in Florida.
The bottles are converted into pellets, which are used as the infill for the artificial turf on the field. It promotes excellent traction for the players as well as providing a cushioning surface for them to play on.
“We believe that through sport we have the power to change lives, and this field is a demonstration of our taking action on that belief,” Cameron Collins, the North America director of football at Adidas, said in a statement. “More than a place for these young athletes to play, it’s a reminder of our collective responsibility to end plastic waste.” Kudos to Adidas for putting its money where its mouth is.