Sneakers Recycled into Artificial Turf

Arlington Heights, IL, July 26--Life expectancy of a pair of sneakers: not more than a few years, right? Wrong. The Daily Herald reports that there's a way to give old athletic shoes new life as turf for sports fields. The Solid Waste Agency of Lake County plans to launch a sneaker recycling program this fall, similar to programs in Cook and McHenry counties. It hopes to partner with schools to collect used shoes for Nike, the program's originator. Nike converts any brand of shoes into Nike Grind material used in artificial athletic surfaces. Its recycling program is the only one of its kind. The concept is simple and the program requires minimal resources, said Peter Adrian, recycling coordinator for the Lake County agency. Once a group collects 5,000 pairs of shoes -- a minimum set by Nike -- and loads them on a truck, Nike will haul it to its recycling plant in Oregon. The shoes are cut to separate soles from mid soles and upper fluff. The parts are ground up and used in a variety of ways. "That's a truckload of stuff that would be otherwise going into a landfill," Adrian said. Officials say it's impossible to quantify how many shoes actually end up in landfills. However, since the Nike program began in 1993, more than 15 million used sports shoes have been recycled nationwide. "There is a market for these kind of materials that can be used for a multitude of playground surfaces and things," Adrian said. The recycled material, in general, could end up in carpet padding, foam padding inside seats, turf grass surfaces, hard playground surfaces, underneath basketball and volleyball courts, running tracks and indoor gymnasiums. It takes roughly 3,000 shoes to make an average basketball court and 100,000 for a track, according to Nike's Web site. Artificial turf fields and playgrounds are becoming more common in schools and colleges because of the low maintenance costs. Grass courts are less-expensive upfront, but require yearly maintenance. Carmel High School in Mundelein will be the first in Lake County to resurface its football field with FieldTurf, a trademark synthetic surface with a base of sand and rubber made with the Nike Grind material. The school did not participate in Nike's program, but paid for the surface on its own. It cost $250,000 for the new rubber surface, which workers are installing now. It lasts 16 years, said Carmel Athletic Director Andy Bitto. "The upfront cost is high, but over time since you don't have to cut, fertilize and water it. It pays for itself," he said. Schools participating in Nike's Reuse-A-Shoe program can get a break on the cost of Nike Grind surfaces by applying for a $20,000 grant from Nike. "It's for groups that have identified a need for a surface in their community," Nike spokeswoman Jill Zanger said. "There are three $20,000 grants that are available to participating organizations that have successfully collected the minimum required pairs." Zanger said Nike's goal is to have at least one recycling partner in each state. Presently, 36 organizations in 20 states participate in the program. In Illinois, four agencies collect shoes for Nike. Not all kinds of sports shoes are mulch material. Nike provides guidelines for what it will and won't accept. Shoes with hard cleats or spikes -- such as those used for soccer, baseball and football -- are unacceptable, as are shoes with metal eyelets to thread shoe laces.