Sneakers Collected by Dow for Recycling Are Being Resold

At a rundown market on the Indonesian island of Batam, a small location tracker was beeping from the again of a crumbling second-hand shoe retailer. A Reuters reporter adopted the high-pitched ping to a mound of outdated sneakers and commenced digging via the pile.

There they had been: a pair of blue Nike trainers with a monitoring system hidden in one of many soles.

These acquainted footwear had travelled by land, then sea and crossed a global border to finish up on this heap. They weren’t purported to be right here.

5 months earlier, in July 2022, Reuters had given the footwear to a recycling program spearheaded by the Singapore authorities and U.S. petrochemicals large Dow Inc. In media releases and a promotional video posted on-line, that effort promised to reap the rubberized soles and midsoles of donated footwear, then grind down the spongy materials to be used in constructing new playgrounds and working tracks in Singapore.

Dow, a significant producer of chemical compounds used to make plastics and different artificial supplies, prior to now has launched recycling efforts which have fallen in need of their said goals. Reuters wished to comply with a donated shoe from begin to end to see if it did, in actual fact, find yourself in new athletic surfaces in Singapore, or at the very least made it so far as a neighborhood recycling facility for shredding.

To that finish, the information group lower a shallow cavity into the inside sole of one of many blue Nikes, positioned a Bluetooth tracker inside, then hid the system by masking it with the insole. The tracker was synched to a smartphone app that confirmed the place the shoe moved in actual time.

Inside weeks, the blue Nikes had left the affluent city-state and had been transferring south by sea throughout the slender Singapore Strait to Batam island, the app confirmed. Reuters determined to place trackers in an extra 10 pairs of donated footwear to see if wayward pair No. 1 had been a fluke.

It wasn’t.

Not one of the 11 pairs of footwear donated by Reuters had been become train paths or children’ parks in Singapore.

As a substitute, practically all of the tagged footwear ended up within the arms of Yok Impex Pte Ltd, a Singaporean second-hand items exporter, in keeping with the trackers and that exporter’s logistics supervisor. The supervisor mentioned his agency had been employed by a waste administration firm concerned within the recycling program to retrieve footwear from the donation bins for supply to that firm’s native warehouse.

However that’s not what occurred to the footwear donated by Reuters. Ten pairs moved first from the donation bins to the exporter’s facility, then on to neighbouring Indonesia, in some circumstances travelling tons of of miles to completely different corners of the huge archipelago, the placement trackers confirmed.

Utilizing the smartphone app to hint the motion of every shoe, Reuters journalists later travelled by air, land and sea to get well three pairs – together with the blue Nikes – from crowded bazaars in Indonesia’s capital Jakarta, and in Batam, which lies 12 miles (19.3 kilometres) south of Singapore. 4 pairs ended up in areas in Indonesia that had been too distant for Reuters to trace down in particular person. In three different circumstances the trackers stopped sending a sign after they reached Indonesia.

The eleventh pair stays in Singapore, however their destiny isn’t what Dow and Sport Singapore had promised in media releases and a promotional video posted on-line. These footwear – a pair of males’s white Reeboks – ended up in a public housing mission a few mile (1.6 kilometres) from a neighborhood sports activities centre the place Reuters had dropped them right into a donation bin on Sept. 8. Its tracker nonetheless blinks from that location, in keeping with the app, a sign that they might have been taken from the donation bin. Reuters visited the housing mission however wasn’t capable of finding the precise location of the footwear.

Offered with Reuters’ findings early this 12 months, Dow mentioned on Jan. 18 that it had opened an investigation together with Sport Singapore, a state company, and different sponsors of this system: French-owned sporting items retailer Decathlon S.A.; banking large Normal Chartered plc; ALBA W&H Good Metropolis Pte. Ltd (Alba-WH), a neighborhood waste administration agency; and B.T. Sports activities Pte Ltd, a Singaporean agency accountable for shredding the donated footwear at a neighborhood facility.

On Feb. 22, Dow mentioned in an emailed assertion to Reuters that the investigation had concluded and, because of this, Yok Impex could be faraway from the mission, efficient March 1. It didn’t clarify why a used-clothing exporter had been concerned in retrieving footwear from the donation bins, however mentioned this system’s companions had been now looking for one other firm to gather the footwear.

“The mission companions don’t condone any unauthorized elimination or export of footwear collected via this program and stay dedicated to safeguarding the integrity of the gathering and recycle course of,” mentioned the assertion, which Dow issued on behalf of all of the sponsors.

Reuters reporters visited the premises of Yok Impex on Feb. 23 to ask about whether or not it had been faraway from the mission. The dealer’s accountant, June Peh, instructed Reuters the agency could be leaving this system when its one-year contract involves an finish, with out giving a cause for its exit or an actual date.

In January, Decathlon despatched Reuters an announcement saying it had not approved the export of any footwear from this system. Normal Chartered and B.T. Sports activities didn’t reply to requests for remark. Sport Singapore and Alba-WH referred inquiries to Dow. Alba-WH is a partnership between ALBA Group, a significant German waste administration firm, and Wah & Hua Pte Ltd, a Singaporean waste disposal agency. The 2 firms didn’t reply to emailed requests for remark.

Reuters tracked the 11 pairs of footwear over a six-month interval. All of the footwear was positioned in numerous donation barrels round Singapore between July 14 and Sept. 9 of final 12 months. Whereas the pattern was small, the truth that none of those footwear made it to a Singapore recycling facility underscores weaknesses within the system.

The findings come as environmental teams say chemical firms like Dow are making exaggerated or false claims about recycling in an effort to burnish their inexperienced credentials, and to undermine proposed laws to rein within the hovering manufacturing of plastics utilized in single-use packaging and quick trend.

The donated footwear that ended up in Indonesia have added to a flood of unlawful second-hand clothes pouring into that growing nation, in keeping with a senior authorities official there, who mentioned such cast-offs pose a public well being danger, undercut its native textile business and sometimes pile extra waste into its already bulging landfills.

Dow instructed Reuters the Singapore shoe mission was making progress. A sports activities facility below development in Jurong, a district in western Singapore, will use recycled shoe materials in its surfaces, Dow mentioned in its January assertion. The corporate additionally pointed to Kallang Soccer Hub, a brand new soccer complicated whose working observe purportedly was the primary in Singapore to be made out of recycled shoe granules. Dow mentioned these builds will use the ten,000 kilograms (22,000 kilos) of recycled shoe materials which were produced via the Singapore recycling mission thus far.

Reuters was unable to confirm if these sports activities surfaces had been constructed as a result of each complexes are below development and cordoned off from the general public.

A pilot mission in 2019 collected 21,000 pairs of footwear, Paul Fong, Dow’s Singapore supervisor, mentioned in a promotional video posted on social media in July 2021 when the nationwide program was launched. One other pilot mission in 2020 collected 75,000 pairs of footwear, Fong mentioned in that video. Fong didn’t reply to emailed questions.

Dow and its companions declined to say how lots of the footwear collected through the pilot part had gone on to be recycled, nor would they supply these figures for the countrywide rollout. They didn’t clarify what procedures had been in place to make sure that donated footwear weren’t exported, diverted for resale or pilfered from bins.

Hidden Trackers

Dow manufactures silicone rubber and plastic utilized in soles and midsoles of sports activities footwear. The multinational and Sport Singapore mentioned of their 2021 media releases that their “first of its variety” program would divert 170,000 pairs of footwear yearly from the landfill. This system companions didn’t reply to questions on what would occur to those footwear or what number of could be recycled to make sports activities surfaces.

Underneath the slogan “Others see an outdated shoe. We see the long run,” they known as on the general public to donate used footwear with rubberized soles to assist ease the burden on Singapore’s incinerators and its solely landfill.

Dozens of wheelie bins for donations had been positioned throughout the city-state of 5.6 million folks. These containers turned up in parks, neighborhood centres, colleges and shops of retail sponsor Decathlon. Singapore residents started depositing 1000’s of used sneakers, flip-flops and college footwear. Within the promotional video, members of the general public, together with college kids, talked enthusiastically about donating.

“I contributed 15 pairs of footwear,” pupil Zhang Youjia mentioned within the video, which was produced by Dow.

The ten pairs donated by Reuters that had been exported moved initially from the recycling drop-off bins to the warehouse of Yok Impex, located in west Singapore near the island’s largest dockyard.

From there, the footwear travelled by sea to Batam, an entry level for items getting into Indonesia, which has a inhabitants of greater than 270 million folks, the fourth-largest on the planet.

Guided by the smartphone app, Reuters in December adopted two of the trackers to the identical location in Batam: Pertokoan Cipta Prima, a sprawling flea market catering to low-income customers. There, dozens of distributors understanding of rows of crumbling concrete outlets patched with tarpaulin and metallic sheets had been promoting the whole lot from T-shirts and fridges to plastic toys.

The information company noticed half a dozen shops promoting used footwear, all clustered in the identical space. At three of them, Reuters noticed footwear stuffed into sacks emblazoned with the phrases “Yok Impex,” together with the Singapore firm’s dolphin brand.

The primary pair to be tracked down had been the blue Nike trainers. The app led to a depressing, cluttered shoe retailer. However the sneakers weren’t on show. Utilizing a perform on the app to make the tracker begin beeping, a reporter adopted the sound to the again of the store, lastly finding these Nikes on the backside of a mound of unfastened footwear. It had been 5 months since Reuters had deposited them right into a donation barrel at a gleaming Decathlon retailer in Singapore. Reuters purchased them again for 180,000 rupiah ($12).

The second tracker – tucked right into a pair of ladies’s black Nikes – was positioned at a close-by store. Reuters had dropped these footwear right into a Dow recycling bin at a Singapore neighborhood centre in September, three months earlier. They price 120,000 rupiah ($8) to repurchase.

Different footwear went on a far longer voyage.

Unbelievable Journey

A pair of pink and orange New Stability sneakers – donated by Reuters in Singapore on Sept. 7 – landed in the identical Batam market every week later, the monitoring app confirmed. By early October, they’d moved to a close-by island known as Bintan, earlier than making a 400-mile journey to Medan, a metropolis of two.4 million folks in northern Sumatra. On Oct. 10, the footwear travelled one other 800 miles to Indonesia’s capital Jakarta, in keeping with the app.

Indonesia’s second-hand clothes business is made up of a fancy community of merchants, they usually typically change items throughout completely different areas, two garment retailers instructed Reuters.

Three weeks later, on Nov. 1, two Reuters reporters searched a frenzied mall in Jakarta searching for the footwear, finally discovering them in a cramped store on the third flooring. The sneakers, freshly cleaned and fitted with a brand new pair of laces, had crisscrossed Indonesia on a marathon eight-week journey. They price Reuters 300,000 rupiah ($20) to purchase again.

To study extra about Yok Impex’s function within the motion of those footwear, Reuters on Jan. 6, 2023, paid an unannounced go to to that used-clothing exporter, and was invited onto the premises. There reporters noticed wheelie bins from Dow’s shoe program stacked up in a yard. Inside, ladies sorted via tables piled excessive with outdated footwear, fastidiously inserting them into piles after which transferring them into sacks like those seen on the Batam flea market.

Yok Impex’s logistics supervisor, Tony Tan, instructed Reuters that waste handler Alba-WH was paying his firm to gather the footwear from the donation bins round Singapore after which ship the footwear again to Alba-WH.

Tan mentioned Yok Impex didn’t export footwear it collected for this system. When knowledgeable that Reuters had discovered footwear it had donated being resold in Batam by retailers who had Yok Impex sacks of their outlets, Tan mentioned it was attainable that footwear from this system obtained positioned in error with different footwear it exports to Indonesia.

“Generally the employees combine it up. I’m unsure as a result of all of us accumulate from another suppliers,” Tan mentioned. “It’s a mistake. I feel, some mistake.” Tan didn’t elaborate.

Banned Commerce

In 2015, Indonesia’s Ministry of Commerce launched the Prohibition of the Import of Used Clothes regulation. The measure banned the import of used garments and footwear over considerations about hygiene and the potential of these things to unfold illness, in addition to the necessity to shield the native textile business.

Veri Anggrijono, Director Common of Shopper Safety and Commerce Management on the commerce ministry, instructed Reuters that the unlawful second-hand clothes import market in Indonesia is price hundreds of thousands of {dollars} a 12 months.

“It’s a well-organized exercise as a result of once we raid them in a single place, then it can go quiet, then proceed once more,” Anggrijono instructed Reuters in an interview at his workplace in Jakarta. He mentioned the importer is the celebration liable below the legislation, not the exporter or market vendor.

Anggrijono mentioned importers will be charged below commerce and client safety legal guidelines, which carry penalties that may embody imprisonment and fines. However he mentioned thus far the one motion the commerce ministry has taken is to revoke import licenses, in addition to seizing and destroying used clothes.

A torrent of low cost, unregulated second-hand clothes flowing into Indonesia additionally provides to the nation’s mounting rubbish downside, mentioned Dharmesh Shah, a coverage advisor to the International Alliance for Incinerator Options, a nonprofit engaged on waste air pollution. He mentioned a lot of that merchandise is in such poor situation that distributors can’t resell it.

“They kind via it and a really small proportion is definitely reusable,” Shah instructed Reuters. “It simply will get burned in open dumps or goes into rivers or in landfills.”

Two market distributors in Batam, who requested to not be named, instructed Reuters they purchase sacks of footwear of differing grades from used-clothing merchants corresponding to Yok Impex, however don’t know precisely what they’re getting till they open them up. They mentioned it’s not unusual to throw out half the footwear they obtain as a result of the footwear isn’t ok to promote.

Recycling Flops

This isn’t the primary novel recycling scheme launched by Dow that hasn’t lived as much as its billing.

In 2021, a Reuters investigation discovered {that a} program in Idaho that the corporate mentioned was utilizing breakthrough expertise to show plastic waste into clear gas was really burning plastic trash to gas a cement plant.

On the time, a Dow spokesperson mentioned the Boise program was serving to to “rework waste into precious merchandise.”

The identical 12 months, Reuters discovered {that a} Dow-backed mission in India, which was supposed to gather plastic trash from the Ganges river and use high-tech equipment to rework the waste into clear gas, had been shut down following common gear malfunctions.

The India mission was run by The Alliance To Finish Plastic Waste (AEPW), a nonprofit group arrange by huge oil and chemical firms. On the time, a spokesperson for the AEPW confirmed that the mission had ended, due partially to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Promoting the promise of recent recycling applied sciences, whether or not to show footwear into playgrounds or plastic baggage into clear gas, is an try and lull the general public right into a false sense of safety concerning the environmental affect of elevated consumerism, environmental teams like Greenpeace and Break Free From Plastic say.

Dow declined additional touch upon these claims or its observe file on recycling.

Jan Dell, founding father of The Final Seashore Cleanup, a U.S. nonprofit targeted on decreasing plastic air pollution, mentioned giant petrochemical firms ought to should report on the outcomes of their sustainability initiatives with the identical transparency because the profit-making components of the enterprise.

“Dow promised to choose up these footwear and grind them into supplies and make them into playgrounds, and as a substitute they’re being discovered throughout one other nation. They actually can’t be believed,” mentioned Dell, after being given particulars of Reuters’ findings.

Guarantees about new recycling applied sciences additionally make good enterprise sense for petrochemical firms, in keeping with Dell, who mentioned throw-away client tradition is nice for his or her earnings. Persons are extra more likely to buy extra of a product when they’re instructed it may be recycled into one thing helpful, in keeping with a 2013 examine within the Journal of Shopper Psychology.

In its Jan. 18 assertion, Dow mentioned the shoe recycling companions are “energized by the frequent imaginative and prescient of sport championing a greener and extra sustainable Singapore.” Dow didn’t touch upon the Journal of Shopper Psychology examine.

In July of final 12 months, Dow launched the same shoe recycling program in Malaysia, which has a inhabitants of 33 million folks and neighbours Singapore to the north. In selling that mission, Dow’s Fong pointed to the Singapore shoe program because the blueprint for achievement. For its Malaysian initiative, Dow partnered with a neighborhood nonprofit and a textile agency. Neither responded to requests for remark.

Again in Singapore, Dow’s efforts are already profitable accolades.

On the night of Oct. 6, Fong and different companions within the Singapore shoe recycling program stepped onto the stage of a chic ballroom on the Equarius Lodge seashore resort on Sentosa Island, simply off the mainland. There they had been offered with the “Most Sustainable Collaboration” award at a glitzy occasion hosted by the Singapore Worldwide Chamber of Commerce, the city-state’s oldest enterprise affiliation.

By Joe Brock and Joseph Campbell in Singapore and Yuddy Cahya Budiman in Jakarta; extra reporting by Xinghui Kok in Singapore; editor: Marla Dickerson