Shoes Collected by Dow for Recycling Are Being Resold
At a rundown sector on the Indonesian island of Batam, a little location tracker was beeping from the back of a crumbling second-hand shoe shop. A Reuters reporter adopted the higher-pitched ping to a mound of previous sneakers and commenced digging via the pile.
There they were being: a pair of blue Nike functioning shoes with a monitoring machine hidden in just one of the soles.
These acquainted footwear experienced travelled by land, then sea and crossed an intercontinental border to end up in this heap. They weren’t meant to be right here.
5 months previously, in July 2022, Reuters had specified the shoes to a recycling program spearheaded by the Singapore government and U.S. petrochemicals giant Dow Inc. In media releases and a promotional video posted on the net, that hard work promised to harvest the rubberized soles and midsoles of donated footwear, then grind down the spongy materials for use in building new playgrounds and jogging tracks in Singapore.
Dow, a key producer of chemical compounds employed to make plastics and other synthetic components, in the past has introduced recycling initiatives that have fallen limited of their mentioned aims. Reuters preferred to stick to a donated shoe from start out to finish to see if it did, in point, conclude up in new athletic surfaces in Singapore, or at the very least built it as considerably as a regional recycling facility for shredding.
To that close, the information firm reduce a shallow cavity into the inside sole of one particular of the blue Nikes, positioned a Bluetooth tracker within, then hid the machine by masking it with the insole. The tracker was synched to a smartphone application that confirmed the place the shoe moved in genuine time.
Inside of months, the blue Nikes experienced left the affluent town-point out and were being transferring south by sea throughout the slim Singapore Strait to Batam island, the application confirmed. Reuters made the decision to put trackers in an supplemental 10 pairs of donated sneakers to see if wayward pair No. 1 experienced been a fluke.
None of the 11 pairs of footwear donated by Reuters were being turned into training paths or kids’ parks in Singapore.
Alternatively, approximately all the tagged sneakers ended up in the palms of Yok Impex Pte Ltd, a Singaporean 2nd-hand goods exporter, in accordance to the trackers and that exporter’s logistics manager. The manager mentioned his company had been hired by a waste management organization involved in the recycling program to retrieve shoes from the donation bins for supply to that company’s local warehouse.
But which is not what transpired to the footwear donated by Reuters. 10 pairs moved 1st from the donation bins to the exporter’s facility, then on to neighbouring Indonesia, in some scenarios travelling hundreds of miles to various corners of the extensive archipelago, the locale trackers showed.
Employing the smartphone app to trace the movement of every shoe, Reuters journalists later on travelled by air, land and sea to get well three pairs – such as the blue Nikes – from crowded bazaars in Indonesia’s funds Jakarta, and in Batam, which lies 12 miles (19.3 kilometres) south of Singapore. 4 pairs finished up in areas in Indonesia that have been way too remote for Reuters to track down in human being. In three other cases the trackers stopped sending a signal immediately after they achieved Indonesia.
The 11th pair stays in Singapore, but their fate is not what Dow and Activity Singapore experienced promised in media releases and a marketing movie posted on-line. Those sneakers – a pair of men’s white Reeboks – finished up in a public housing task about a mile (1.6 kilometres) from a neighborhood sporting activities centre where Reuters had dropped them into a donation bin on Sept. 8. Its tracker still blinks from that spot, in accordance to the app, an indicator that they may well have been taken from the donation bin. Reuters visited the housing project but was not ready to uncover the precise spot of the footwear.
Introduced with Reuters’ findings early this 12 months, Dow claimed on Jan. 18 that it experienced opened an investigation along with Activity Singapore, a state company, and other sponsors of the application: French-owned sporting items retailer Decathlon S.A. banking huge Regular Chartered plc ALBA W&H Clever Metropolis Pte. Ltd (Alba-WH), a neighborhood waste management organization and B.T. Sporting activities Pte Ltd, a Singaporean firm dependable for shredding the donated footwear at a local facility.
On Feb. 22, Dow stated in an emailed assertion to Reuters that the investigation had concluded and, as a final result, Yok Impex would be eliminated from the undertaking, effective March 1. It did not describe why a utilized-clothing exporter experienced been concerned in retrieving footwear from the donation bins, but stated the program’s partners had been now browsing for one more organization to accumulate the footwear.
“The undertaking companions do not condone any unauthorized elimination or export of footwear collected as a result of this software and keep on being dedicated to safeguarding the integrity of the collection and recycle method,” claimed the statement, which Dow issued on behalf of all the sponsors.
Reuters reporters frequented the premises of Yok Impex on Feb. 23 to request about regardless of whether it experienced been removed from the project. The trader’s accountant, June Peh, informed Reuters the business would be leaving the software when its one particular-yr agreement arrives to an stop, devoid of supplying a rationale for its exit or an actual day.
In January, Decathlon despatched Reuters a statement saying it experienced not licensed the export of any shoes from the plan. Regular Chartered and B.T. Athletics did not answer to requests for remark. Activity Singapore and Alba-WH referred issues to Dow. Alba-WH is a partnership in between ALBA Team, a key German squander administration enterprise, and Wah & Hua Pte Ltd, a Singaporean squander disposal business. The two companies did not answer to emailed requests for remark.
Reuters tracked the 11 pairs of footwear more than a 6-month time period. All the footwear was placed in distinctive donation barrels all over Singapore in between July 14 and Sept. 9 of last calendar year. Whilst the sample was modest, the fact that none of these sneakers built it to a Singapore recycling facility underscores weaknesses in the procedure.
The conclusions appear as environmental groups say chemical providers like Dow are making exaggerated or fake claims about recycling in purchase to burnish their inexperienced credentials, and to undermine proposed restrictions to rein in the soaring production of plastics utilised in solitary-use packaging and fast fashion.
The donated footwear that ended up in Indonesia have included to a flood of illegal second-hand garments pouring into that developing region, according to a senior authorities official there, who reported these types of solid-offs pose a community health possibility, undercut its regional textile field and usually pile far more squander into its previously bulging landfills.
Dow told Reuters the Singapore shoe task was building development. A sports activities facility under design in Jurong, a district in western Singapore, will use recycled shoe content in its surfaces, Dow stated in its January assertion. The business also pointed to Kallang Football Hub, a new soccer intricate whose functioning track purportedly was the first in Singapore to be designed from recycled shoe granules. Dow stated these builds will use the 10,000 kilograms (22,000 kilos) of recycled shoe content that have been manufactured by means of the Singapore recycling undertaking so far.
Reuters was unable to confirm if these athletics surfaces experienced been developed due to the fact each complexes are below development and cordoned off from the general public.
A pilot project in 2019 gathered 21,000 pairs of shoes, Paul Fong, Dow’s Singapore supervisor, claimed in a advertising video clip posted on social media in July 2021 when the nationwide software was released. Yet another pilot task in 2020 collected 75,000 pairs of sneakers, Fong explained in that online video. Fong did not respond to emailed inquiries.
Dow and its associates declined to say how several of the footwear gathered all through the pilot stage had absent on to be recycled, nor would they supply people figures for the countrywide rollout. They did not explain what procedures have been in area to ensure that donated shoes weren’t exported, diverted for resale or pilfered from bins.
Dow manufactures silicone rubber and plastic used in soles and midsoles of sporting activities shoes. The multinational and Sport Singapore claimed in their 2021 media releases that their “first of its kind” software would divert 170,000 pairs of sneakers on a yearly basis from the landfill. The plan partners did not react to queries about what would come about to these footwear or how many would be recycled to make sports activities surfaces.
Below the slogan “Others see an old shoe. We see the future,” they referred to as on the public to donate applied sneakers with rubberized soles to aid relieve the stress on Singapore’s incinerators and its only landfill.
Dozens of wheelie bins for donations were positioned across the metropolis-condition of 5.6 million persons. These containers turned up in parks, neighborhood centres, educational institutions and shops of retail sponsor Decathlon. Singapore citizens began depositing hundreds of used sneakers, flip-flops and faculty footwear. In the marketing video, users of the general public, which include college kids, talked enthusiastically about donating.
“I contributed 15 pairs of sneakers,” pupil Zhang Youjia explained in the video clip, which was developed by Dow.
The ten pairs donated by Reuters that ended up exported moved initially from the recycling fall-off bins to the warehouse of Yok Impex, situated in west Singapore close to the island’s most significant dockyard.
From there, the footwear travelled by sea to Batam, an entry stage for merchandise entering Indonesia, which has a populace of more than 270 million people, the fourth-premier in the entire world.
Guided by the smartphone app, Reuters in December followed two of the trackers to the similar location in Batam: Pertokoan Cipta Prima, a sprawling flea market place catering to reduced-earnings consumers. There, dozens of vendors functioning out of rows of crumbling concrete retailers patched with tarpaulin and steel sheets have been advertising every little thing from T-shirts and refrigerators to plastic toys.
The news agency noticed fifty percent a dozen merchants offering employed shoes, all clustered in the exact area. At a few of them, Reuters noticed footwear stuffed into sacks emblazoned with the words “Yok Impex,” together with the Singapore company’s dolphin logo.
The to start with pair to be tracked down ended up the blue Nike functioning sneakers. The app led to a gloomy, cluttered shoe keep. But the sneakers weren’t on display screen. Applying a operate on the app to make the tracker commence beeping, a reporter followed the audio to the back again of the shop, eventually locating people Nikes at the base of a mound of free footwear. It had been 5 months due to the fact Reuters had deposited them into a donation barrel at a gleaming Decathlon shop in Singapore. Reuters bought them back again for 180,000 rupiah ($12).
The next tracker – tucked into a pair of women’s black Nikes – was found at a close by store. Reuters experienced dropped those people sneakers into a Dow recycling bin at a Singapore group centre in September, three months before. They charge 120,000 rupiah ($8) to repurchase.
Other shoes went on a considerably for a longer time voyage.
A pair of pink and orange New Equilibrium sneakers – donated by Reuters in Singapore on Sept. 7 – landed in the exact same Batam market a 7 days later, the tracking application showed. By early Oct, they experienced moved to a close by island known as Bintan, right before making a 400-mile journey to Medan, a city of 2.4 million people in northern Sumatra. On Oct. 10, the shoes travelled one more 800 miles to Indonesia’s money Jakarta, in accordance to the app.
Indonesia’s 2nd-hand outfits sector is built up of a complicated network of traders, and they typically exchange goods throughout diverse locations, two garment retailers told Reuters.
3 months later, on Nov. 1, two Reuters reporters searched a frenzied mall in Jakarta searching for the sneakers, ultimately discovering them in a cramped shop on the 3rd ground. The sneakers, freshly cleaned and equipped with a new pair of laces, had crisscrossed Indonesia on a marathon 8-week journey. They price Reuters 300,000 rupiah ($20) to obtain back.
To understand more about Yok Impex’s role in the movement of these sneakers, Reuters on Jan. 6, 2023, paid an unannounced take a look at to that utilized-clothing exporter, and was invited on to the premises. There reporters noticed wheelie bins from Dow’s shoe plan stacked up in a yard. Inside of, girls sorted as a result of tables piled superior with previous shoes, thoroughly putting them into piles and then transferring them into sacks like the kinds viewed at the Batam flea marketplace.
Yok Impex’s logistics manager, Tony Tan, instructed Reuters that squander handler Alba-WH was paying out his company to accumulate the sneakers from the donation bins around Singapore and then deliver the footwear back again to Alba-WH.
Tan stated Yok Impex did not export sneakers it gathered for the software. When educated that Reuters had observed sneakers it experienced donated getting resold in Batam by merchants who experienced Yok Impex sacks in their stores, Tan reported it was attainable that shoes from the method acquired put in mistake with other footwear it exports to Indonesia.
“Sometimes the workers blend it up. I’m not positive because we all gather from some other suppliers,” Tan explained. “It’s a mistake. I feel, some oversight.” Tan did not elaborate.
In 2015, Indonesia’s Ministry of Trade launched the Prohibition of the Import of Utilized Clothing regulation. The measure banned the import of used dresses and footwear more than fears about cleanliness and the prospective of these objects to distribute ailment, as nicely as the want to secure the community textile business.
Veri Anggrijono, Director Typical of Customer Defense and Trade Regulate at the trade ministry, instructed Reuters that the unlawful next-hand apparel import current market in Indonesia is worth tens of millions of dollars a calendar year.
“It’s a very well-organized activity because when we raid them in a person place, then it will go silent, then carry on once more,” Anggrijono instructed Reuters in an interview at his business office in Jakarta. He mentioned the importer is the social gathering liable less than the law, not the exporter or industry vendor.
Anggrijono reported importers can be billed less than trade and shopper defense guidelines, which have penalties that can include things like imprisonment and fines. But he stated so far the only motion the trade ministry has taken is to revoke import licenses, as properly as seizing and destroying utilized outfits.
A torrent of low cost, unregulated next-hand garments flowing into Indonesia also adds to the country’s mounting rubbish issue, stated Dharmesh Shah, a plan advisor to the World Alliance for Incinerator Solutions, a nonprofit working on waste air pollution. He reported substantially of that merchandise is in these kinds of very poor situation that distributors just cannot resell it.
“They kind by it and a incredibly small share is really reusable,” Shah informed Reuters. “It just gets burned in open dumps or goes into rivers or in landfills.”
Two market sellers in Batam, who asked not to be named, informed Reuters they invest in sacks of sneakers of differing grades from utilised-apparel traders these kinds of as Yok Impex, but don’t know specifically what they are receiving right up until they open up them up. They explained it’s not unusual to toss out 50 % the sneakers they acquire because the footwear is not great sufficient to promote.
This is not the initially novel recycling scheme released by Dow that hasn’t lived up to its billing.
In 2021, a Reuters investigation located that a system in Idaho that the business reported was making use of breakthrough know-how to transform plastic waste into clear fuel was essentially burning plastic trash to fuel a cement plant.
At the time, a Dow spokesperson reported the Boise application was serving to to “transform squander into worthwhile goods.”
The same 12 months, Reuters uncovered that a Dow-backed venture in India, which was meant to collect plastic trash from the Ganges river and use significant-tech equipment to rework the squander into clean up gasoline, had been shut down subsequent regular products malfunctions.
The India undertaking was operate by The Alliance To Close Plastic Squander (AEPW), a nonprofit group set up by large oil and chemical companies. At the time, a spokesperson for the AEPW confirmed that the job had ended, owing in portion to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Providing the promise of new recycling technologies, whether or not to convert sneakers into playgrounds or plastic bags into clean gas, is an attempt to lull the public into a wrong perception of safety about the environmental influence of elevated consumerism, environmental groups like Greenpeace and Break Free of charge From Plastic say.
Dow declined even more comment on all those promises or its observe history on recycling.
Jan Dell, founder of The Last Beach Cleanup, a U.S. nonprofit targeted on decreasing plastic pollution, said large petrochemical firms need to have to report on the final results of their sustainability initiatives with the exact transparency as the gain-producing sections of the company.
“Dow promised to decide on up these sneakers and grind them into products and make them into playgrounds, and rather they’re remaining found all more than a different state. They actually cannot be considered,” stated Dell, right after currently being supplied particulars of Reuters’ findings.
Claims about new recycling technologies also make superior organization feeling for petrochemical providers, in accordance to Dell, who claimed throw-absent customer society is fantastic for their earnings. People today are far more likely to purchase a lot more of a products when they are advised it can be recycled into a thing handy, in accordance to a 2013 study in the Journal of Shopper Psychology.
In its Jan. 18 assertion, Dow said the shoe recycling associates are “energized by the typical vision of activity championing a greener and additional sustainable Singapore.” Dow did not remark on the Journal of Buyer Psychology review.
In July of last 12 months, Dow launched a identical shoe recycling software in Malaysia, which has a inhabitants of 33 million persons and neighbours Singapore to the north. In advertising and marketing that undertaking, Dow’s Fong pointed to the Singapore shoe system as the blueprint for achievement. For its Malaysian initiative, Dow partnered with a nearby nonprofit and a textile agency. Neither responded to requests for comment.
Again in Singapore, Dow’s endeavours are presently successful accolades.
On the evening of Oct. 6, Fong and other companions in the Singapore shoe recycling method stepped onto the stage of an classy ballroom at the Equarius Resort beach vacation resort on Sentosa Island, just off the mainland. There they ended up introduced with the “Most Sustainable Collaboration” award at a glitzy party hosted by the Singapore Global Chamber of Commerce, the town-state’s oldest organization association.
By Joe Brock and Joseph Campbell in Singapore and Yuddy Cahya Budiman in Jakarta further reporting by Xinghui Kok in Singapore editor: Marla Dickerson