At 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.
None of the 11 pairs of footwear donated by Reuters were turned into exercise paths or kids’ parks in Singapore.
Instead, nearly all the tagged shoes ended up in the hands of Yok Impex Pte Ltd, a Singaporean second-hand goods exporter, according to the trackers and that exporter’s logistics manager. The manager said his firm had been hired by a waste management company involved in the recycling program to retrieve shoes from the donation bins for delivery to that company’s local warehouse.
But that’s not what happened to the shoes donated by Reuters. Ten pairs moved first from the donation bins to the exporter’s facility, then on to neighboring Indonesia, in some cases traveling hundreds of miles to different corners of the vast archipelago, the location trackers showed.
Source: Dow said it was recycling our shoes. We found them in Indonesia
But I guess they are being recycled after all then? So that’s good, right?