Shoe Recycling Programme to Continue Despite Huge Scandal in Feb 2023

Have you given up on your fitness plan already?

Suppose you have a pair of old sneakers lying around. In that case, you might as well donate it to Sport Singapore’s shoe recycling programme because, let’s be honest—you probably won’t return on that fitness journey anytime soon.

The Massive Scandal of Sport Singapore’s Shoe Recycling Programme

The shoe recycling programme was set up in 2021 as a joint initiative between Sport Singapore, Dow and other partners like BT Sports and Alba-WH. The programme’s goal, clear from its name, was to recycle old sneakers into building materials.

The soles of these shoes are converted into building materials to be used in sports infrastructure like running tracks, fitness corners and playgrounds.

There are also ongoing plans to develop sporting equipment using other shoe parts.

Image: Sport Singapore

Three hundred shoe collection points were set up islandwide to collect old sneakers. Alba-WH would collect these recycled shoes before sending them to BT Sports, which manages the only facility in Singapore that grinds these collected shoes into rubber granules. Sport Singapore then purchases these recycled granules to be used as building materials.

Image: Sport Singapore

However, the programme courted a wave of controversy last month after it was discovered that the recycled sneakers wound up in Indonesia to be sold as second-hand shoes.

Guess you could say the sneakers veered off track.

Dow: Sharp Drop in Number of Old Sneakers Collected in March 2023

From July 2021 to February this year, the programme has collected about 90,000 kilograms of old sneakers, which averages 4,600 kilograms monthly. However, this number dropped to merely 2,500kg in March this year.

According to Lianhe Zaobao, a representative from Dow, Fang Zimei (hanyu pinyin) shared that it is unclear whether this sharp drop in the number of old sneakers collected in March is due to the February scandal.

Fang speculates that the early months of the year, the Chinese New Year spring cleaning period, would naturally mean more old sneakers are cleared by Singaporean households and collected by the programme.

This potentially explains why fewer old sneakers were collected in March, the post-CNY period, Fang added.

The Road to Hell is Paved With Good Intentions

So what exactly happened in the scandal?

According to Reuters, several pairs of sneakers placed by the news agency at various shoe collection points last year wound up being diverted for resale in Indonesia. Specifically, these shoes were found in bazaars in Batam and Jakarta.

Image: Reuters

Perhaps they were building a really, really, long running track to Indonesia, you know? The National Steps Challenge is getting serious out here.

Upon investigation by the project partners, it was found that this diversion was, fortunately, not done on purpose. Instead, it was due to “vulnerabilities in the process chain”.

It turns out that Alba-WH, responsible for collecting the shoe recycling bins, had engaged a subcontractor, Yok Impex, to collect the bins from certain parts of Singapore.

Maybe there was a bin in Yishun they didn’t want to collect.

The bins collected by Yok Impex were brought to their own premises before being sent to Alba-WH‘s premises and the grinding facility. As such, these bins were mixed up, and the shoes meant for recycling were diverted to Indonesia for resale instead.

Well, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

Shoe Recycling Programme to Continue Albeit with Tightened Process Chain

Despite the massive scandal, the show must go on.

After issuing a joint apology for the slip-up, partners involved in the shoe recycling programme have decided to continue running it. Alba-WH also terminated Yok Impex’s services.

However, changes will be made to tighten the process chain, ensuring the mistake will not be repeated.

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Now, contractors or subcontractors appointed in the process chain must not be involved in the second-hand trading of shoes or textiles.

Collection staff must also seal the collection bins and transport them to Alba-WH’s premises directly. Collected shoes cannot be delivered to intermediary premises for one to pick and sort like it’s a pasar malam.

Regular spot checks will also be conducted at the premises of contractors or subcontractors involved in the process chain.

Fang emphasised that despite the controversy, the programme remains true to its original purpose—the sustainability agenda. The shoe recycling programme aims to give these old sneakers a new life, diverting them from incineration or landfills like other forms of waste.

While the scandal is unfortunate, what the project aims to do remains good work and should continue.

10,000 Kilograms of Recycled Shoes have been Converted into Sports Infrastructure and Equipment Thus Far

Further, the programme has done good work.

Thus far, 10,000 kilograms of the recycled shoes collected have been converted into the running tracks we sprint on and the playgrounds children frolic on.

You can find one such running track at the Kallang Football Hub and an 888-metre jogging trail made from recycled shoes at the ActiveSG Sport Village @ Jurong Town.

888 metres… Huat ah!

These recycled shoes have also been used for sports equipment such as yoga mats. If you own a yoga mat made from these recycled shoes, that’s one new thing to flex at your weekly yoga class. 

The remaining recycled granules will also be used to build more sports infrastructure, such as Sports Centres in Serangoon, Bukit Canberra and Punggol.

That’s not all—in general, you can also look forward to finding more jogging tracks, fitness corners, and playgrounds islandwide built from these old sneakers.

So what are you waiting for? If you have old sneakers you no longer need, you should support the initiative by donating your sneakers at the nearest collection point.

There are collection points available islandwide at various ActiveSG Sport Centres, public parks, community and recreation clubs, Decathlon outlets and, if you’re lucky, even in your school. Click here to find the full list of collection points.