Loughborough University
Leicestershire, UK
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Loughborough University

Innovative Manufacturing and Construction Research Centre

Taking steps to end footwear waste

Worldwide footwear consumption has doubled every 20 years, from 2.5 billion pairs per year in 1950 to more than 20 billion pairs of shoes produced presently each year. With less than five percent of these shoes being recycled, and most ending up at landfill sites, manufacturers and governments have recognised it’s time to act.

Researcher using shoe recycling machineIMCRC researchers, led by Professor Shahin Rahimifard, are looking at improving shoe design and recycling processes required to achieve a vision of ‘zero waste to landfill’ in the footwear sector, and are seeking to develop the activities and infrastructures needed to collect and recycle used shoes in the UK.

Because it’s such a major concern to the footwear industry, due to legislative and producer responsibility issues, and increasing consumer pressures, the research team have some heavyweight partners onboard. They include retail giants Tesco and Next, and manufacturers Clarks and Nike.

The work of the IMCRC team at Loughborough will both inform our approach to footwear design, and show us new ways to recycle shoes when they have no further use. All in all, we believe it will be another step towards the goal of zero landfill.

Matthew Turner, Social Responsibility ManagerClarks

It’s a complex decision to identify the best recycling option for every type of shoe. Some of the solutions include repairing and remanufacturing old shoes and reintroducing them back onto the market. But the main focus is to recover useful materials that can be successfully reused either for making new shoes and recycled leather products or in other applications, such as rubber playground surfacing, insulation materials, and underlay products.

As part of the overall project, IMCRC researchers have purchased and installed equipment to develop a shoe recycling demonstrator, and plan to develop radical new recycling processes, design guidelines and supporting business models to make footwear recycling an economically feasible alternative to landfill.

Professor Rahimifard said: “Various footwear manufacturers from the USA, Japan, Brazil, Germany, Austria and Spain have expressed an interest to be involved in this work. They see its many benefits, not just related to managing their post consumer waste, but also to reduce the overall environmental footprint of the sector through the reutilisation of millions of tonnes of materials otherwise destined for landfill.”

Want to know more? Contact Professor Shahin Rahimifard

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