A 26 Feb. report published by Reuters has cast serious doubts on the integrity of a shoe recycling programme led by government agency Sport Singapore (SportSG) and US petrochemicals giant Dow.
Initially launched as a three-year project in 2020, it was subsequently reshaped into a permanent programme. In operation since 2021, the programme aims to grind the rubberised soles and midsoles of donated shoes into rubber granules that are bound together using a water-based and solvent-free binder. This material is used to build new playgrounds, jogging tracks and fitness corners in Singapore, partially replacing hazardous recycled tires. The public can drop their used sports shoes at collection points all over Singapore.
In 2022, journalists from Reuters news agency also donated a number of pairs of shoes to the programme - but they first inserted GPS trackers in the soles of the shoes before depositing them in the bins in Singapore over a period of six months.
According to the Reuters report, none of the donated 11 pairs of shoes were recycled into playgrounds or running tracks Singapore. Instead, nearly all the tagged shoes ended up in the hands of Yok Impex, a Singapore company that deals with recyclables and second-hand goods hired by a waste management company involved in the recycling programme to retrieve shoes from donation bins for delivery to the company’s local warehouse.
The trackers in the shoes showed that they had then been shipped across the Singapore Strait to Batam Island, then on to Indonesia. Here, the journalists ultimately ended up being able to track down and buy back several pairs at second-hand markets.
Reuters presented its findings to Dow in January. Dow, together with Sport SG and the other programme sponsors, issued a joint statement declaring that “The project partners do not condone any unauthorised removal or export of shoes collected through this programme and remain committed to safeguarding the integrity of the collection and recycle process.”
They also opened an investigation, led by waste management company Alba-WH, which, according to an emailed statement to Reuters from Dow on Feb 22, had been concluded and resulted in the removal of Yok Impex from the project, effective 1 March. It did not explain why a used-clothing exporter had been involved in retrieving footwear from the donation bins, but said the programme’s partners were now searching for another company to collect the shoes.
In a recent development, just hours ago, Rachel Chan of CNA reported that the programme’s partners apologised for the "lapse" that resulted in donated footwear being exported overseas for sale. They also thanked Reuters for flagging the matter and said they hoped ‘the public will continue to support the shoe recycling programme’.
"We wish to assure the public that we remain strongly committed to initiatives that protect our planet.”