Europe’s annual footwear consumption amounts to 2,600 million pairs, which means that 1.5 million tones/year of footwear end up in urban dumping sites. Additionally, the sector industries contribute 90,000 additional tones derived from by-products and rejects. This kind of waste, which is mainly made up of a combination of polymeric materials, textiles and leather, causes a high visual impact and its slow degradation makes it persist in the environment.
However, the waste generated by the footwear manufacturing activities is an important source of energy and raw material that can be recycled. There have been previous initiatives concerning footwear recycling, but they did not succeed mainly due to the fact that they were directed to no value-added products or the reluctance to the processes implied (in the case of energy generation by means of combustion).
The action to be implemented addresses the reuse of post-used shoes and footwear waste and its utilization in new products by means of a mechanical treatment of footwear waste. The main disadvantage of footwear recycling is the need to separate the original components. This proposal aims to reuse footwear as a whole, without the need to separate its components, and to add it to higher value added products within the footwear, sports and road safety sectors.
The work programme can be summarised as follows:
1. Selective footwear refuse collection in order to prevent it from accumulating in urban dumping sites. This will require a system for selective refuse collection and a way to encourage consumers (education and rewarding).
2. Waste treatment by means of cutting into pieces, screening, and separation of metallic elements.
3. Adding the milling as a filler in polymeric formulations for the manufacture of footwear soles and insoles, floorings (sports areas, playgrounds, roads, etc.) and road safety articles. The development is based on the use of a polymeric master obtained from the footwear waste, in which the properties are improved with regard to the master without filler. All the developments are in their final stage in order to undertake the market establishment stage.
4. Manufacturing an ecological footwear line incorporating ecological soles and insoles developed in the project. For INVULSA and its footwear brand El Naturalista, the business models is based on launching a footwear product with better features than the footwear that can be currently produced using natural fibres, and even to recycle again these products for the manufacture of new batches. For TPSP, the business model relies on being the first company in the orthopaedic sector to offer environmentally friendly footwear at the same time that they introduce an innovative footwear concept with an interchangeable sole. In both cases, it is intended to be eligible for the awarding of the European eco-label and the certification as ecological footwear by a reference centre (INESCOP) with the appropriate marking.
5. Marking and certification of every product obtained as a result of the project, using a system that indicates that such products have been obtained from recycled footwear. An anti-counterfeiting and traceable technique will be used, such as the addition of microtaggants with colour codes. These codes are unique and will differentiate environmentally friendly footwear.
As a consequence of the action to be developed, footwear becomes a 100% recyclable product that affects consumer awareness raising and the reduction of the environmental impact since it can be incorporated into new footwear collections and road safety articles that contain up to 50% in weight of footwear milling, and a polymeric flooring line containing up to 40% of footwear milling.