Changing the game: creating a more sustainable future for sports

Person tying running shoe on a track

Our team is committed to developing a circular economy that’s a viable alternative to today’s “make, use, dispose” model..

In my time at Dow, I’ve seen us acknowledge the responsibility we have to create a better tomorrow and consistently take meaningful action toward building it – in Asia and around the world.

This means accelerating our progress in closing the manufacturing loop and recovering waste. In many parts of the world, a lack of effective waste management and recovery infrastructure – combined with variable rates of recycling – means too much plastic is entering the environment. This is unacceptable and we’re determined to play our part in addressing it.

One area where more progress is needed is reducing the amount of textile and rubber waste sent to landfills. Last year in Singapore alone, the National Environment Agency’s statistics indicated that 141,200 tons of textile and leather waste were disposed of, but just 6% of it was recycled. Globally, rubber remains a huge environmental challenge. One study estimated that only 3-15% of rubber was recycled at end-of-life and that 20%-30% of waste rubber was sent to landfill or stockpiled.

Bin full of recycled running shoes

One powerful example of how we’re combining our innovation capabilities, technical expertise and passion for addressing these challenges is our partnership with Sport Singapore. This collaboration is representative of our commitment to transform industries and create a better, more sustainable future for all – while simultaneously helping our customers create lasting impact and achieve their goals.

Sport Singapore was keen to incorporate sustainability into the local sporting scene. So together, we launched the Give Your Used Sport Shoes a Second Life program a year ago. We called for the public to donate used sports and school shoes so they could be recycled into running lanes in the newly built Kallang Football Hub in central Singapore.

The project provided the ideal scope to direct our innovative solutions toward meeting a clear social need. In this instance, the jogging lanes at the sports facility were built using sustainable technologies from Dow’s Construction Chemicals (DCC) and Polyurethanes (PU) businesses. DCC’s award-winning ECOGROUND™ water-based binder and PU’s VORAMER™ solvent-free binder technologies provided safe installation with the strength, flexibility, color dynamics and endurance athletes expect. Not to mention the cost optimization sports facilities owners expect.

Large pile of recycled track granules

In the first phase, we built more than 200 square meters of jogging lanes with these recycled materials. Integrating shoe granules into the design reduced the use of the hazardous recycled tire granules traditionally used to build jogging lanes. Ours was a more environmentally-friendly solution and the first recycled shoe running track in Asia.

Our team is committed to developing a circular economy that’s a viable alternative to today’s “make, use, dispose” model. Over the course of two months, we have already collected close to seven tons of sports shoes – a total of 21,000 pairs. And by doing so, we’ve reduced emissions and energy costs associated with incineration.

But our interest in shoes isn’t confined to the running track. Another partnership we’ve elevated in Asia is with global shoe manufacturer ECCO. Together, we’ve unlocked the potential of using liquid silicone rubber in 3D printing, making it possible for people to enjoy fully customized midsoles in only one hour – a disruption to the whole category.

Sport at its highest level inspires us to push the limits of our potential and do things that have never been done before. So what better than the Olympic Games to encourage us to seek better and new ways of doing things, like introducing more sustainable solutions to the host city’s infrastructure? Asia Pacific is host to three Olympic games: PyeongChang 2018, the anticipated Tokyo 2021 and Beijing 2022. Dow has been involved with the Olympic Movement in one way or another for almost four decades, providing materials science that seals, protects, insulates, coats, lasts, and works better in challenging conditions – on the field of play and in our day-to-day lives.

During Tokyo 2020, the Dow team worked with a customer to develop a new mono-plastic fabric for banners, increasing the recycling potential of the material. After the banners have done their part to create a fantastic atmosphere and provide information to visitors, we will collect them and work with the local government to turn them into public benches for Tokyo city. A great example of circular economy in action.

These projects are real-world examples of Dow’s Seek Together™ values in practice. We are collaborating and innovating with our partners to deliver lasting positive change in countries across Asia. These projects represent our business at its best – solving the challenges of today and tomorrow thorugh unique scientific breakthroughs, R&D progress, technological innovation and advanced human capital expertise. They illustrate the effectiveness of creating collaborative solutions with our customers in a way that works for people, the planet and our businesses.

Here in Asia, we will continue to leverage Dow’s partnership and innovation strengths to tackle some of the biggest challenges our customers, communities and stakeholders face. I’m excited to see where this leads us and look forward to sharing further sucessess soon.

Jon Penrice, Dow President - Asia Pacific