August 2, 2013 by Mike Hower
Patagonia has commenced a new remanufacturing program to continuously recycle its flip-flops, which could reduce production waste by nearly a third.
The clothing company has partnered with small upstart firm PLUSfoam to create flip-flops that are 100 percent recyclable and can be upcycled into new flip-flops at the end of their life with no reduction in performance.
“They are essentially the equivalent of the standard materials in the marketplace today,” said PLUSfoam’s President & CEO Brett Ritter. “Whether you are measuring compression, tear strength, durability or anything like that, we perform as well, if not better than, what is out there. The only real difference is the lifecycle of the product. … It is just not possible today to achieve with EVA or rubber what we can do with PLUSfoam.”
The technology involves a process where various combinations of reclaimed post-consumer materials, post-manufacturing scrap and virgin material are fused with foaming agents and reconstituted into a consistent sheet form ready for remanufacture.
While a majority of flip-flops are made from materials such as rubber, foam or ethylene-vinyl acetate (EVA), the PLUSfoam technology is 100 percent recyclable — though it is still petrochemical-based.
“There is no shortage of waste generated by your typical footwear factory — just think of all the scrap rubber or some such similar material that goes to the landfill or the incinerator after a run of flip-flops or shoe soles are cut out from the original layup sheet,” Ritter added. “We can take all that scrap and simply mash it back up and make more product from it.”
He added that the process results in around a 30 percent reduction in waste on the production side alone.
This initiative is the latest to come out of Patagonia’s Common Threads scheme — which many believe to be a first in the global retail sector to embody mutual responsibility between company and customer for the full lifecycle of a product.
In 2011 the company launched an much-acclaimed marketing initiative aimed at encouraging customers to repair, reuse and recycle items of clothing and equipment bought from its stores, which encouraged them to buy less. Patagonia has also teamed up with eBay to develop its own online resell channel for customers.
In March, Patagonia launched a new venture capital fund of more than $20 million to support eco-friendly for-profit businesses, focusing on energy, food, water or waste-related startups. The investments for each business vary from $0.5 million to $5 million, depending on the scope and needs of the business. Patagonia said it is looking to support companies that already earn more than $1 million annually, and ideally ones that also align with Patagonia’s vision.