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April 27, 2023
The incentive to recycle in the football industry is abysmal. You know this, we know this. It’s a universal truth. The amount of wasted plastic, kits and football boots that end up in landfill is enough to turn anyone’s stomach. And the worst part about it all? Other than a few gestures, such as the recycled plastic football pitch by the Sochi stadium in Russia, no one is
making any seismic moves to change the industry. Which is why we thought we’d have a crack at it.
Recycling football boots seemed like an obvious place to start. With 12.5
million boots going to landfill every year from the EU and US alone, we were honestly surprised to find no one had attempted to recycle old boots before. Eventually, we want to use this scheme to make our planet-friendly football boot, the Devista, completely circular [keep reading to find out more about what we mean by ‘circular’]. We’re working on that. But in the meantime, we at least wanted to be making moves to give these boots a second life.
First, we had to tackle the elephant in the room: who could we actually use to achieve this goal? And was there anyone prepared to go the extra mile? Before we answer those questions, however, you probably need to know what a circular economy (and therefore, a circular boot) is.
A circular economy is one that reuses and restores, creating as few new resources as possible. This is the
ultimate goal of any sustainable company: to use only recycled materials, and to assemble it in a way that doesn’t impact the environment at all. This may sound like a pipe dream,
but it’s already happening today. Allbirds announced their first net zero carbon shoe, M0.0NSHOT, with some of the materials even being carbon negative.
Yes, we are a little jealous that they’re ahead of the game on that one. But progress for one company means progress for all. Especially when it comes to the environment.
Anyway, back to finding the perfect recycling partner. And where does any great search start: on Google. We were looking for companies in Europe that might have the capability to recycle a football boot, and from this investigation one company stood out: ESO Recycling. Their system was truly circular: turning old athletic equipment into running tracks and children's playgrounds. Plus they were already committed to recycling materials that other companies were refusing to tackle.
We won’t bore you with the details of how we got from a Google search to a collaboration. But within the space of a few months we’d collected 400 boots, partnered with PEUGEOT to use an electric van to drive to the recycling plant in Italy, and were ready to make history.
On the partnership with PEUGEOT, Sokito’s founder Jake Hardy commented ”Our eco-friendly mindset goes beyond the materials we put
into our boots. It extends to all areas of our business so it’s important that we transport the collected boots in a manner that has minimal environmental impact.”
ESO recycling was
already taking workwear, tennis balls, bike tyres, inner tubes, and sports shoes, but making the leap to football boots was huge. After travelling from the UK to Tolentino, Italy, Jake was lucky enough to witness the inaugural switch-on of their new recycling machine. We were even allowed to feed our discarded boots into the machine as the first item it would ever recycle. A momentous occasion.
For any of you wondering what they actually do with the boots, this part is for you. After 7 years of development, ESO managed to create an innovative plant that can break down waste into its primary components. The boots go through phases of shredding, with the original components separated into mixed granules (rubber, textiles, plastic, leather, ferrous and non-ferrous metals). Materials are then separated using advanced aeraulic and magnetic technologies to isolate the individual components and send them for separate recovery. Easy peasy. If easy peasy actually means incredibly technical and complicated.
So where did we get these 400 boots from? Using collection spots at Nottingham-based grassroots clubs, like Aslockton & Orston FC, Bingham Town and Elston FC, we collected loads of boots that would have otherwise been thrown away. We also asked students at the University of Nottingham to drop off beyond-repair boots and had support from professional clubs like Lincoln City and Notts County.
Utilita’s ‘Football Rebooted’ campaign also threw
its support behind the pilot scheme and agreed to a reciprocal partnership. Any boots collected by Sokito that are still fit for purpose will be redirected to Utilita’s scheme of
reuse. Similarly, any unusable boots collected by Utilita will be redirected to Sokito and used to test the newly developed recycling machinery.
But that was just for the launch. Now we want everyone to get involved. No matter the brand or the condition, you can send in your old boots to get recycled. And the best part? You get £20 off a new pair of Devistas when you do.
We want our boots to be made from 100% recycled materials. However, for the highest performance, this isn’t possible right now. Even so, our boots are the most planet-friendly on the market, with at least 2.5 recycled bottles in each boot. Even if the football industry refuses to move at more than a snail's pace, we’ll keep pushing to make sure it’s at least going in the right direction.
As an institution, football has the power to change the world. And right now, the world needs help. We’re not making the green switch fast enough, but with more footballers joining the cause, as well as fans calling for bigger moves from the clubs they support, it might be just enough of a push to get the ball rolling.
April 27, 2023