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Sole traders

Tread LIghtly

Australian Sporting Goods Association is walking the walk when it comes to recycling and sustainability. Shaun Bajada, association Executive Director, explains.

New research shows Australians are stockpiling more than 100 million unused shoes – posing major landfill and environmental concerns.

TreadLightly, a new industry-led national recycling initiative powered by the Australian Sporting Goods Association (ASGA) and recycler Save Our Soles (SOS), is giving unwanted sports and active lifestyle shoes a new lease on life as mats and flooring for retail stores, gyms and playgrounds.

“TreadLightly exists to solve a very real industry issue,” says Shaun Bajada, ASGA Executive Director. “We’re committed to working closely with retailers, manufacturers and consumers to reduce the industry’s environmental footprint and to stop millions of shoes ending up as landfill every year.

“Over 110 million shoes make their way to Australian shores each year, of which 25 million are sporting and athletic lifestyle footwear. The wider industry, as well as consumers, want to do more to reduce their environmental impact and TreadLightly makes it easy for everyone to do their bit for the planet.”

TreadLightly involves pre-loved sports shoes being dropped off at a designated collection unit at participating retailers. Footwear is collected and sent to a recycling plant in Australia for sorting, break-down and processing. Reusable components are extracted, including rubber, leather and fibres, and reclaimed materials are used to manufacture new products.

The program, backed by Federal Government, aims to recycle more than one million pairs of sporting and athletic shoes by June 2023 to save more than 400 tonnes of footwear going to landfill.

It might sound ambitious, but Shaun says the program is already walking tall – just three months in – and 40 tonnes of pre-loved shoes were collected nationally. 

Shaun says 100,000 pairs of shoes were recycled through a pilot program during the COVID-19 pandemic and the first of many lockdowns in Victoria in 2020.

“It showed there was an appetite still to recycle shoes,” he says. “This is the start of a program that’s going to make a difference and only get bigger. This is really what an industry association is all about, bringing in multiple brands and competitors for a common good.”

Shoe components can take more than 1000 years to break down. In September 2021, research by market research agency 10 THOUSAND FEET, commissioned by TreadLightly, found that the average Australian admits to owning about five pairs of shoes they don’t wear – the equivalent of 100 million shoes that could go to landfill. 

TreadLightlyNearly a quarter of respondents (24 per cent) keep their old shoes, with many people admitting it’s for a rainy day or for sentimental reasons, while half of respondents (51 per cent) confess to simply throwing their unwanted shoes in the rubbish.

“This research highlights just how many shoes are collecting dust at home, and how many shoes end up in the rubbish because we don’t know what else to do with them,” says Shaun.

He is encouraging everyone to “look around your home for any unwanted sports of active lifestyle shoes, from sneakers and trainers to golf shoes”, and take them into participating TreadLightly retailers. So far more than 400 locations across Australia are involved in the program. Collection partners include adidas, Asics, Converse, Globe, Rebel, SportsPower and The Athlete’s Foot.

“At the heart of the program, we want to make it easy for collection sites to manage and be a part of,” Shaun says. “We also want to make this truly circular in nature and highlight how easy it is. “We’ve been able to achieve this through collaboration. It’s great for partners because they can tell their own story about sustainability, but they’re also part of a bigger story.

“The end goal is to create a program that’s self-sustaining by the brands, that is free and easy for consumers and it becomes as easy as recycling paper and glass and plastic. We want this to be around forever.”

Rita Kimmerle, Group Sustainability Manager for Accent Group says TreadLightly aligns with the company’s own objectives for sustainability and recycling. 

She advocated for a group-wide commitment to TreadLightly when she joined the company last year.

“We conducted a team engagement survey in June (2021) which provided the opportunity for team members to give feedback across a range of areas, including sustainability,” Rita says. 

“It’s very clear our team members are very much supportive and engaged in sustainability initiatives. Our association with TreadLightly has really put a ‘fire in the belly’ to move forward with our sustainability initiatives.”

Rita says while collection points for recycled goods are not new for customers – think soft plastics recycling at Coles or Woolworths and the opportunity to recycle sheets and towels at Sheridan – she expected a “slower burn” for the collection point program. However, this was not the case. The program has been successful.

Accent Group has now extended the program beyond retail stores and into its warehouses. Faulty shoes, or shoes not able to be sold, are donated to charity organisations for distribution. However, any shoes not fit to be donated are sent to TreadLightly for recycling.

A new initiative, being trialled in The Athlete’s Foot outlet stores, also offers some “less than perfect” shoes at a discount price.

“We’re trialling a number of initiatives,” Rita says. “Repurposing is also a key for us.

“Our sustainability program has made a significant impact on our team and customers and shows that, for us, recycling and repurposing is more than just putting a few recycling bins outside. It’s something we can really foster in the community.” 

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