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Puma reveals ‘biodegradable’ experimental shoe project

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Companies are trying many ways to make their products more sustainable and Puma clearly thinks it’s on to a winning idea — or at least the early stages of one — with the sports giant having just announced a pilot project that turns experimental sneakers into compost.

Puma

It said it can “successfully turn an experimental version of its classic Suede sneaker into compost under certain tailor-made industrial conditions” following a two-year-long Re:Suede experiment. 

In 2021, it created 500 pairs of the experimental Re:Suede shoes using Zeology tanned suede, a TPE outsole and hemp fibres. The shoes were worn for six months by volunteers in Germany to test their comfort and durability before Puma sent them to a “specially equipped industrial composting area” operated by its partner Ortessa Group in the Netherlands. 

It had to follow a strict procedure to turn them into compost, starting off by shredding them, mixing them with other green household waste and placing them in a composting tunnel. They were then “sprayed with leaching-water from earlier composting that contains nutrients” and were naturally heated due to the biological activity and controlled air circulation in the tunnel. 

It’s not a quick process and Puma had to wait almost four months by which time the materials that were small enough (

Admittedly, none of this is achievable under standard operating procedures for industrial composting, but the shoes did eventually turn into compost. And Anne-Laure Descours, Chief Sourcing Officer at Puma, said the company “will continue to innovate with our partners to determine the infrastructure and technologies needed to make the process viable for a commercial version of the Re:Suede, including a takeback scheme, in 2024”.

The company also plans to share its insights in a detailed report, “so its peers and other interested stakeholders can learn from the experiment and apply the learnings to their own initiatives”. 

One key thing it has learned is that while all the materials can decompose, the sole required more pre-processing and additional time in the composting tunnel to completely break down.

Puma said it received feedback from those people who wore the shoes and it will improve the comfort of future versions by using a new material pattern for the upper and the sock liner. 

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