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Nike's New Joyride is Not The Only Running Shoe to Use a Bridge Between Rubber And Plastic

By: Vishal Mathur

Last Updated: July 29, 2019, 12:26 IST

Nike's New Joyride is Not The Only Running Shoe to Use a Bridge Between Rubber And Plastic

Incidentally, Nike has a solid sustainability track record to ensure recycling and reuse too.

The battle to improve the good old running shoe continues unabated. Nike has a new cushioning technology called Joyride, which now be a part of some of its running shoes in the future. This joins Air and React, the mid-sole cushioning technology that is already available in many Nike running shoes. The Joyride tech will premiere with the Nike Joyride Run Flyknit, which will hit stores in the middle of August, and will be priced at Rs 14,995.

But what really is the big deal about Joyride? The very foundation of Joyride is the blend of design and materials in use. Beneath your foot are four pods, which for ease of understanding, can be called section. Each of these are positioned in a way that in total, they run the length of the sole. Each of these pods or sections are filled with tiny plastic TPE (thermoplastic elastomer—a copolymer of plastic and rubber) beads that have been created specifically to absorb impact as you run along. The second aspect of these beads is the energy return, which helps a runner with the forward motion. As with any running shoe, the idea is to reduce impact and provide energy assistance, to reduce stress related injuries.

Nike Joyride-1

But environmentalists were quick to take note. Which is not entirely surprising. And there is definitely merit in the argument. But at times, it sounds more like an opinion erring on an unfavourable bias. For instance, a quick look at the Earther opinion piece on Gizmodo raises some issues.

The writer first says, “The shoes probably feel quite comfortable to run in, but amongst all the claims Nike is making about their performance, the company doesn’t address an obvious environmental concern that’s hard to ignore when looking at the promotional shots for the Joyride shoes: all those tiny foam beads.” The writer then goes on to say, “In recent years, the devastating environmental effects of the tiny plastic beads used in hygiene products like face scrubs, body washes, and even toothpaste has come to light. Once used and washed down a bathroom drain, they end up in lakes, rivers, and the oceans as microscopic pollution that’s nearly impossible to clean or filter. Making matters worse, the plastics used in microbeads absorbs other pollutants and toxins and end up inside wildlife, and eventually make their way up the food chain. Your glowing skin comes with an extreme cost to the environment.” This is where things get a bit perplexing, because the beads in the Nike Joyride shoes are nowhere close to being as tiny as the beads in your face scrubs and body wash. The writer then raises the valid point that, "but shoes eventually wear out, and when disposed of there’s always the chance that the wear and tear of garbage disposal will result in these beads spilling out and finding their way into streams, rivers, and lakes because they’re so small and light,” the article continues. One would perhaps say that not enough weightage has been given to the previous trend of Nike's sustainability initiatives and processes.

At this point, Nike responded with an official statement. “Nike is committed to creating a more sustainable future and protecting the future of sport. Like all athletic footwear, Joyride can be recycled through Nike’s Reuse-A-Shoe program and transformed into new products. We have also been actively exploring the source of microfibers and working with the sporting goods industry and other industries to understand the issue and identify long-term scalable solutions,” the company says.

Yes, we absolutely agree that pollution of the water bodies globally is a massive problem. The numbers from the World Economic Forum (WEF) suggests that 8 million tonnes of plastic end up in the ocean every year, and is expected to rise to 60 tons per minute by the year 2050, if the current rate of plastic usage is maintained. There is no arguing with the numbers and the reality, as well as the fact that we need to ensure that we don't pollute the earth and the water bodies any more than we already have.

However, one has to take cognizance of what Nike does as a part of its sustainability initiatives. The company has diverted more than 51 million pounds of waste materials globally (that is equivalent to 10 Olympic-size swimming pools) between May 2016 to 2017. It has also used 4 billion discarded plastic bottles for its products. The materials that are salvaged and reprocessed, including the ones left behind during the manufacture of new products, include rubber, foam, fiber, leather and textile blends. These are separated and ground into granules for use again. Nike’s data suggests that as much as 120 million pounds of surplus materials have been recycled and reused—this is approximately the same quantity to fill 700 jumbo jet aircrafts completely. Nike has also recycled 30 million pairs of sports shoes, which if lined up, could circumnavigate the earth five times over.

Last but not the least, Nike isn't the only brand to use this bridge between rubbers and plastics. Remember the Adidas Boost shoes? Well, that Boost midsole which the company makes tall claims about, consists of TPU (thermoplastic polyurethane), is also a form of TPE, and the Boost midsole also uses what are essentially beads or capsules derived from when TPU is read the riot act. Yes, the similar TPE (thermoplastic elastomer—a copolymer of plastic and rubber) beads that Nike Joyride uses. Then there is the Puma Ignite midsole tech, that also uses TPU technology and then they have the Jamming trainers which use NRGY beads. And these are just some examples in the world of footwear. If we are going to do an argument for the sake of it, then might as well question all the stakeholders involved?

Also Read | World Environment Day: Nike’s Push for Sustainable Apparel and Running Shoes Relies on Smarter Tech