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How Adidas plans to end the global plastic crisis

By Herve Dewintre


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Humanity's advances are built around materials that themselves define clearly circumscribed historical periods. The Bronze Age, which succeeded the Stone Age, was an important stage in the evolution of European societies, both social and technological, allowing metallurgy to flourish. The same is true of the Iron Age: by increasing agricultural yields, iron control encouraged the extension of land clearing and the sedentarisation of populations. We are currently living in what historians of the future will probably call the Bakelite Age. That is to say plastic. Since the beginning of the twentieth century, plastic has undoubtedly enabled considerable advances that go far beyond the objects that surround us on a daily basis: if we live longer, it is thanks to plastic that has revolutionized the field of medicine, helping to reduce costs, infectious diseases and reducing surgical procedures. Plastic saves lives.

Because it is single-use, because it is difficult to degrade, plastic also pollutes the planet like no other material has done before it in the history of mankind. We are therefore faced with a paradox: how can we manage this material that helps humanity to live longer while at the same time degrading its environment? This essential, vital question has been driving the fashion industry for several years now, which makes intensive use of this low-cost, high-yield synthetic material.

A number of initiatives have been launched, not only by brands but also by service companies: we are thinking in particular of the company Betak which, in a manifesto published this year, promises to reduce its single-use plastic consumption during the events (fashion shows, presentations) it organises for its prestigious customers. Globally, the fashion industry is responding to this challenge by promising to reduce its consumption. This response is part of a more global fight for sustainable development.

The most ambitious response has finally come from sports equipment. This is not surprising: accustomed to the technological innovations on which their prestige is generally based, sports brands have mastered the art of the industrial revolution and, more generally, of performance in the broadest sense. This is notably the case of Adidas, which has been multiplying collaborations and partnerships with start-ups, innovative labels and cutting-edge organisations for several years now in favour of the fight against plastic pollution.

The brand has recently capitalized on the know-how of the Californian company Allbirds, which develops unexpected materials based on eucalyptus fibre, sugar cane or merino wool, to accelerate its ecological transition towards carbon neutrality: a high-performance and comfortable sports shoe, the result of this recent collaboration, will soon be launched. However, this new development is only the icing on the cake of a deeper commitment, initiated five years ago with the Parley network.

This organisation has formed alliances with major partners such as adidas on the one hand, but also Anheuser Busch InBev (Corona) and American Express; the World Bank, SACEP (South Asian Cooperative Environmental Programme), Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. It also has collaborators from the worlds of science, art, design, entertainment, and space and ocean exploration. The organization's main focus is on developing projects to stop the destruction of the oceans and more generally to put an end to the global plastics crisis.

The partnership was first presented to the United Nations in 2015 in New York at an event entitled "Oceans. Climate. Life. "at which Cyrill Gutsch, founder and CEO of Parley, outlined his strategy to end marine plastics pollution. This strategy was based on three pillars: the first two pillars are classic: avoiding the use of plastics wherever possible and recovering plastic waste from the environment. The third pillar is more singular: the idea is to rethink plastics by inventing new materials. Aadidas and Parley unveiled a shoe with an upper made from filaments of plastic waste and illegal gillnets that were recovered and recycled - an industry first.

"What we've accomplished with Adidas is a miracle"

Since then, the partnership has been leading eco-innovation in the industry and is driving a global movement for the oceans through sport. "*It's not enough to just change the way we do things. We need to change the way the entire industry acts," * says James Carnes, Vice President Brand Strategy at adidas. Over the past five years, Adidas has been phasing out virgin polyester from its products and by the end of 2020, more than 50 percent of the polyester used in the company's products will be from recycling. The goal is to phase out virgin polyester from all its products by 2024.

" Given the magnitude of the problems we are tackling, we feel we can never do enough or fast enough. However, in hindsight, what we've accomplished with Adidas is a miracle. Over the past five years, we have proven the validity of Parley's AIR strategy. Now, more than ever, we need the Materials Revolution to happen. We have ten years ahead of us to end the toxic age we have created. To survive, we need to be united as a species and collaborate with nature," explains Cyrill Gutsch, CEO and founder of Parley.

From an industrial point of view, Adidas has limited the use of plastic wherever possible. Nevertheless, the uniqueness of the partnership between Adidas and Parley is first and foremost the desire to be at the forefront of the Materials Revolution. It is not simply a question of wanting to reduce plastic consumption, but of identifying, evaluating and financing the development of materials that can replace plastic and other harmful, toxic or over-exploited materials. The beginning of a new age? To celebrate the anniversary of their partnership, Adidas and Parley have launched the Adidas ParleyUltraBOOST DNA, a shoe based on the historic prototype to be introduced in 2015.

This article was originally published on FashionUnited.FR, translated and edited to English

Photo credit: Adidas X Parley

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