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Puma turns biodegradable experimental sneaker into compost

By Danielle Wightman-Stone


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Puma Re:Suede sneakers Credits: Puma

Sportswear company Puma, which invited people in Germany to test its experimental Re:Suede sneaker for biodegradability, has claimed that it has successfully turned its classic suede sneaker into compost “under certain tailor-made industrial conditions”.

In 2021, Puma created 500 pairs of the experimental Re:Suede sneaker, using Zeology tanned suede, a TPE outsole and hemp fibres. The sportswear brand then asked the volunteers to wear the sneakers for half a year to test for comfort and durability before sending them to a specially equipped industrial composting area operated by its partner Ortessa Group in the Netherlands.

Puma Re:Suede sneakers Credits: Puma

Following a strict protocol, Puma first shredded the sneakers and mixed them with other green household waste and placed them into a composting tunnel. They were then “sprayed with leaching-water” from earlier composting that contains nutrients and naturally heated due to the biological activity and controlled air circulation in the tunnel.

After approximately 3.5 months, the materials that were small enough (less than 10 millimetres) 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.

Puma reveals the results of its biodegradable experimental Re:Suede project

Puma Re:Suede sneakers Credits: Puma

Anne-Laure Descours, chief sourcing officer at Puma, said in a statement: “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 also added that it plans to share its insight into its experiment in a detailed report “so its peers and other interested stakeholders can learn from the experiment and apply the learnings to their own initiatives”.

Puma Re:Suede sneakers Credits: Puma

Marthien van Eersel, manager of materials and innovations at Ortessa, added: “We learned a lot during the Re:Suede trial and how to streamline our industrial composting process to include items that need longer to turn into compost.

“While all Re:Suede materials can decompose, the sole of the Re:Suede required more pre-processing and additional time in the composting tunnel to completely break down.”

The Re:Suede experiment was the first programme, together with the novel polyester recycling initiative Re:Fibre, to launch as part of Puma’s innovative hub ‘Circular Lab’ led by the sportswear brand’s innovation and design experts to create the future of the company’s circularity programmes.