Development of an Economically Sustainable Recycling Process for the Footwear Sector

Research Area:
Remanufacturing and Recycling


Proceedings of the 17th CIRP International Conference on Life Cycle Engineering (LCE10)

SMART Authors:
Shahin Rahimifard

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The worldwide consumption of footwear is estimated to be in excess of 20 billion pairs of shoes per year.
At present less than 5% of these are recycled or reused, with most being disposed of in landfill sites around
the world. In fact, the majority of current footwear recycling schemes are led by charitable organisations, for
the purpose of reusing the shoes in developing countries. However, not all of the collected shoes are
deemed suitable for reuse, with a sizeable amount of these old shoes more suited for material recycling
due to their poor conditions. Material recycling of footwear products is however a challenging problem with
most modern shoes containing a complex mixture of rubber, textile, polymers and metallic materials.
Furthermore due to the relatively low value of recoverable materials, the cost of the shoe recycling
processes has to be kept to a minimum. This paper discusses a four step methodology that has been
developed to create a market driven material recycling approach for footwear products. A key point
presented in the paper is that for products with relativity low hidden value at end-of-life such as footwear
product, it is not presently economically feasible to obtain recycled materials that can compete with virgin
materials in the market place. Therefore, for footwear products a more realistic level of material recycling is
proposed, using commercially available automated recycling technologies, with the reclaimed materials
limited to a range of down-cycled, yet useful and viable applications.

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