Adidas Has a New Plan to Use More Recycled Plastic and Shrink Its Carbon Footprint

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In recent years, the fashion industry has been dragged for being unsustainable, and now brands are starting to do something about it. On Tuesday, Adidas announced an ambitious plan to introduced recycled fabrics in its products, create more products that can be recycled or naturally break down, and reduce its carbon footprint.

“We’re not just focused on changing how we do business,” Adidas VP of Brand Strategy James Carnes said in a press release. “We’re dedicated to changing how our industry does business.”

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When you buy a new workout shirt or pair of running shoes, you likely don’t give much thought to what will happen to them after they’ve worn out. Unfortunately, that’s a big problem. According to data from the EPA, 11.2 million tons of discarded textiles ended up in landfills in 2017 alone, and just 15.2 percent of all textiles were recycled that year. This new plan is Adidas’ attempt to address the issue.

At the center of the announcement are two new fabrics, called Primeblue and Primegreen, that contain recycled ocean plastics. This isn’t the first time Adidas has used recycled material in its products, however: Since 2015, it has partnered with Parley for the Oceans to produce shoes made from recycled ocean plastic.

Both Primeblue and Primegreen are made with recycled polyester. Primeblue uses Parley for the Ocean recycled material, and it’s already incorporated into some key Adidas products, including its top-shelf Ultraboost 20 shoes. Primegreen is a newer fabric that contains no virgin plastic, and Adidas plans to use it in products starting later this year. Overall, the company is on track to produce over 15 million pairs of shoes with recycled fabrics this year (according to Reuters, Adidas produces more than 400 million pairs annually).

Although recycling is nothing new, it could have a big environmental affect if widely adopted in the fashion industry.

“Increasing the presence of recycled polyester fibre has the potential to massively impact global energy and resource requirements,” Barclays analyst Anushka Challawala told Reuters. “Sportswear is leading a lot of the change.”

Primeblue and Primegreen are just one part of a larger sustainability strategy that Adidas announced on Tuesday. It’s a three-pronged approach, or as Adidas put it, three “loops.” The first loop is relatively straightforward—using recycled fabrics in the company’s products. The second loop is called “circular,” and it involves making products that are engineered to be fully recyclable. Finally, there’s the “bionic loop,” where products are created to be recycled and then eventually break down naturally, although Adidas hasn’t given details on how it plans to accomplish that.

Adidas has already been experimenting with recyclable products, including with the limited release of its Futurecraft Loop shoe last year. The shoe was designed to be worn and then returned to Adidas so it could be broken down and recycled into a new shoe. Despite some issues with getting people to return their shoes on time, Adidas managed to collect enough pairs to create a new batch of recycled shoes, and now it’s working on rolling out a consumer version in 2021.

The company has also set some concrete goals with deadlines for the next few years. This year, it plans to transition to using over 50 percent recycled polyester in its products, and it aims to use only recycled polyester by 2024. Next year, it plans to work with its major U.S. sports partners—MLS, NHL, USA Volleyball, and the Power 5 NCAA football programs—to introduce more sustainable uniforms.

“Our commitment to eliminate the use of virgin polyester in our products by 2024 helps us get one step closer to being a more circular company,” Carnes said.

And the company isn’t just looking at its products, either. It’s keeping an eye on all the ways its business affects the environment. It has set a goal of reducing its carbon footprint by 30 percent (compared to its 2017 level) by 2030, and going completely “climate neutral” by 2050.

By then, maybe the fashion industry won’t get such a bad rap.

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