Sports company PUMA says it has produced an experimental sneaker that is compostable under certain tailor-made industrial conditions following two years of research.
The pilot project, known as the RE:SUEDE experiment, began in 2021 when PUMA created 500 pairs of the shoe, using Zeology-tanned suede, a TPE outsole and hemp fibres.
PUMA says the RE:SUEDEs were worn for six months by volunteers in Germany to test the comfort and durability of the shoes before being sent to a specially equipped industrial composting area operated by its partner Ortessa Group in the Netherlands.
The composting procedure begins by shredding and mixing the shoes with other green household waste and placing them into a composting tunnel. From there, PUMA says the equipment sprays leaching water from earlier composting that contains nutrients and is naturally heated due to the biological activity, and controlled air circulation in the tunnel.
PUMA says that after approximately 3 and a half months, the materials that were small enough (<10mm) to pass through a sieve were sold as Grade A compost for agricultural use (within the standards of the Netherlands), while the remaining materials were returned to the composting tunnel until they too had broken down to the desired level (<10mm).
Anne-Laure Descours, Chief Sourcing Officer at PUMA, commented: “While the RE:SUEDE could not be processed under the standard operating procedures for industrial composting, the shoes did eventually turn into compost.
“We will continue to innovate with our partners to determine the infrastructure and technologies needed to make the process viable for a commercial version of the RE:SUEDE, including a takeback scheme, in 2024.”
PUMA says, as a result of the feedback received from the people who wore the RE:SUEDE for half a year, it will enhance the overall fit by using a new material pattern for the upper and the sock liner to improve comfort.
The RE:SUEDE experiment was the first programme, together with the novel polyester recycling programme RE:FIBRE, to launch as part of PUMA’s“Circular Lab” that aims to create the future of the company’s circularity programmes.