A Reuters‘ investigative piece has brought public attention to the fact that some shoes collected via a collaboration between material science company Dow, and Sport Singapore (SportSG), were not recycled but exported to Indonesia for sale instead.
The project has been running since 2019 and promised to upcycle materials from used and unwanted shoes to build running tracks at sports centres in Singapore.
In response to the Reuters‘ article, SportSG said investigations had been carried out after they were alerted by the news outlet in January 2023.
An investigation led by the project’s collection partner, Alba-WH, commenced immediately to look into the issue, SportSG shared.
At the same time, measures were immediately taken by Alba-WH to tighten the process chain in the interim.
So what went wrong in the process?
According to the statement issued by SportSG on Feb. 27, investigations were completed on Jan. 31.
“Vulnerabilities” were found in the process chain with Alba-WH’s subcontractor, “which led directly to the collected shoes not being sent for recycling”, SportSG said.
Alba-WH had subcontracted the collection of the shoe recycling bins in selected parts of Singapore to Yok Impex, an aggregator for recyclables and reusables, in January 2022.
These collection bins were then aggregated and sorted at Yok Impex’s premises before being sent to Alba-WH’s warehouse for registering and weighing.
The shoes would then be delivered to the B.T. Sports grinding facility to convert the shoes to granules for use as building materials.
The investigation found that the supply chain was compromised only at Yok Impex’s premises.
“…The aggregation of the shoe bins in parallel with Yok Impex’s sorting activities resulted in some shoes being extracted for resale instead of recycling,” SportSG wrote, and explained that that was how the shoes tagged and tracked by Reuters, and possibly others, were extracted for export instead.
Stop sending shoes to Yok Impex’s facility
Alba-WH, the company that is in charge of collecting the shoes from almost 300 bins islandwide, has since stopped sending shoes to Yok Impex’s premises.
They will not be renewing Yok Impex’s services.
“We will also be taking further steps to tighten up the process chain based on our learning from this incident,” the statement added.
SportSG said that the project partners apologise to the public for this lapse. They also thanked Reuters for bringing up this matter so that they can take steps to remedy the situation.
Are shoes really recycled?
SportSG said that 10,000kg of used shoes were recycled to build infrastructure such as Kallang Football Hub and a sport facility under construction in Jurong Town.
There are also plans to use the rubber granules for jogging tracks, fitness corners, and playgrounds around Singapore.
SportSG hopes the public can continue to support this “important and meaningful” programme.
Reporters from Reuters placed a tracker inside each of the 11 shoes that they dropped off at different shoe recycling bins around Singapore between Jul. 14 and Sep. 9, 2022.
After six months, they found that three pairs ended up at a flea market in Batam and they bought the shoes, two pairs of Nike and a pair of New Balance sneakers, back at prices under S$30.
Four pairs ended up in parts of Indonesia that were too remote to be tracked down.
They failed to track three pairs as the signal got cut off after the shoes reached Indonesia.
The last pair apparently remains in Singapore, still trackable, at an HDB estate 1.6 km from where they had been dropped the shoes.
Furthermore, the Indonesian government has banned the import of used clothing since 2015, citing health concerns as reasons.
Mothership has reached out to Dow for their response to Reuters‘ article, and we will update accordingly when they reply.
Top image via Reuters article screenshot and via Ministry of Sustainability and the Environment/Facebook