Puma has taken a significant step toward launching a fully biodegradable shoe with the RE:SUEDE experiment. In this trial, 500 specially designed Suede sneakers were sent to testers for six months of wear, and 412 of them were later sent to an industrial composting facility in the Netherlands.
The shoes, made with Zeology suede, hemp padding and laces, and a hemp-cotton blend lining, were designed to decompose under strict conditions. After about three and a half months, a substantial portion of the leather trainer had broken down and was classified as Grade A compost, suitable for gardening.
The thermoplastic elastomer (TPE-E) soles, however, took around six months to break down into small enough pieces for compost. Puma views the RE:SUEDE experiment as “successful,” though the longer timeframe for sole decomposition deviates from standard industrial composting procedures.
Puma plans to launch a commercial version of the sneaker next year, incorporating a takeback scheme for composting the shoes using a tailor-made process. The company is also exploring a “new business model in composting” that supports the decomposition of the shoes.
Transparency serves as another crucial element in the RE:SUEDE experiment, with PUMA committing to share comprehensive insights in a detailed report. The transparency aims to provide valuable knowledge to peers and other interested stakeholders, enabling them to glean insights from the experiment and apply these lessons to their respective initiatives.
Marthien van Eersel, Manager of Materials & Innovations at Ortessa, emphasized the significant learning derived from the RE:SUEDE trial. He highlighted the advancements made in streamlining the industrial composting process to accommodate items requiring an extended period to decompose fully.
While all materials in the RE:SUEDE can break down, the sole posed a unique challenge, necessitating additional pre-processing and more time in the composting tunnel for a complete breakdown.
The Re:SUEDE shoe is part of Puma’s efforts to adopt sustainable practices and materials, such as zeolite-based tanning for the suede, and eliminate chrome, aldehyde, and heavy metals from the process. Puma’s previous attempt at a compostable shoe, the InCycle collection in 2012, was discontinued due to poor consumer demand.
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