U.S. petrochemicals giant Dow Inc and the Singapore government said they were transforming old sneakers into playgrounds and running tracks. Reuters put that promise to the test by planting hidden trackers inside 11 pairs of donated shoes.
Most got exported instead.
t a rundown market on the Indonesian island of Batam, a small location tracker was beeping from the back of a crumbling second-hand shoe store. A Reuters reporter followed the high-pitched ping to a mound of old sneakers and began digging through the pile.
There they were: a pair of blue Nike running shoes with a tracking device hidden in one of the soles.
These familiar shoes had traveled by land, then sea and crossed an international border to end up in this heap. They weren’t supposed to be here.
Five months earlier, in July 2022, Reuters had given the shoes to a recycling program spearheaded by the Singapore government and U.S. petrochemicals giant Dow Inc. In media releases and a promotional video posted online, that effort promised to harvest the rubberized soles and midsoles of donated shoes, then grind down the material for use in building new playgrounds and running tracks in Singapore.
Dow, a major producer of chemicals used to make plastics and other synthetic materials, in the past has launched recycling efforts that have fallen short of their stated aims. Reuters wanted to follow a donated shoe from start to finish to see if it did, in fact, end up in new athletic surfaces in Singapore, or at least made it as far as a local recycling facility for shredding.