Plastic pollution has started to be cleaned up by companies looking to use it for their products.

Photo Courtesy of Christophe Launay

How Adidas Turns Pollution Into Profit

By Andrew Kelby      December 10, 2017

Plastic is vital in the production of countless products, from automobiles to packaging to banknotes. However, this pervasive input is often improperly disposed of, and ends up polluting bodies of water. As a result, it is essential to find ways to properly dispose of plastic and clean up the pollution that is already present in our oceans. Although nonprofits have been using donations to fund plastic removal for years, corporations have only recently begun to find ways to make plastic removal profitable and productive. Adidas, for example, produces shoes made from recycled ocean plastic, and other companies have followed suit with a variety of recycled products. In the short term, these initiatives will help to clean up pollution, and in the long term, they represent a trend towards sustainable, circular business models.

It is undeniable that plastic pollution is a major threat to ocean ecosystems. In 2010 alone, it is estimated that around 8 million tonnes of this durable material went into Earth’s oceans. When this plastic floats out to sea, large garbage patches form on the ocean’s surface , such as the Great Garbage Patch in the Pacific, and drift down into deep-sea sediment. As plastic floats on the ocean’s surface, turtles, seabirds, and many other marine animals become entangled in it or eat it. This can poison them and create blockages in their digestive systems. Plastic pollution will certainly become worse in the near future as plastic production doubles about every 11 years and we as a society have historically been unsuccessful in properly disposing of all of our plastic.

In 2016, to combat this issue, Adidas partnered with the non-profit organization Parley for the Oceans to design and produce a line of shoes called the “Ultraboost Uncaged Parley," becoming one of the first large corporations to create products from reclaimed sea plastic. 95 percent of the material in each pair of shoes is ocean plastic recovered from the Maldives, a chain of islands in the Indian Ocean. While only 7,000 pairs were produced in 2016, selling out at a price of $220, Adidas aims to produce 1 million pairs by the end of 2017. This will require the recovery of  at least 11 million plastic bottles from the Maldives.  In addition, Adidas has been reducing its own plastic use by removing plastic shopping bags from 3,000 retail stores across the world. The innovative “Ultraboost Uncaged Parley" project is a perfect example of how a corporation can produce profitable, quality products in a manner which not only minimizes its environmental footprint, but even has a net positive effect.

Since Adidas began its project in 2016, other brands have followed their lead. In Spain, the Barcelona-based company Sea2see produces designer sunglasses using sea plastic reclaimed by fishing boats off the coast of Catalonia. Soon, plastic will also be collected off the shores of Senegal. These fishermen are paid by Sea2see to bring in around a tonne of plastic every three days. According to the company’s founder, Francois Van den Abeele, the fishermen are especially excited to be included in the project considering the “bad reputation” they have “for contributing to ocean pollution by discarding their nets.” While Sea2see is a fairly new company, they are already becoming popular on social media and selling millions of dollars worth of glasses in Spain, Belgium, Italy, and the Netherlands, and are currently negotiating with distributors in Australia and the United States.

Both Sea2see and Adidas are engaging in a new sustainable business concept named the “circular economy,” which encourages the use of innovation to re-think the way we produce, utilize, and dispose of scarce or hazardous materials like plastic. In a circular economy, materials are re-used as long as possible to minimize waste and pollution. In order for materials like sea-plastic to be recycled or recovered by corporations, innovators must find ways to help these materials retain their value long after their first use and even after they are disposed of. If more corporations adopt this philosophy, a more sustainable, efficient, and profitable future is possible.



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