Nike's bug-eyed sneakers split into three pieces for recycling
Recycled apparel, footwear and gear have long been hoarding the spotlight, but forward-looking recyclable products and concepts are making their play for a fair share of the glow. Nike looks to make shoe recycling simpler with its all-new ISPA Link, a glue-less sneaker that quickly separates into three pieces at the end of its lifecycle, essentially presorting itself for recycling. Nike hopes to scale the program to make sneaker recycling a more universal concept.
The ISPA (that's Nikese for Improvise; Scavenge; Protect; Adapt) Link isn't the first recyclable sneaker we've seen from a major manufacturer, but it does incorporate a different strategy, relying on three separate pieces that fit together without adhesives or stitching to create the whole. Nike explains that adhesives make a shoe very difficult to disassemble for recycling, so it leaves them behind.
The large pods on the single-piece Link midsole fit snugly inside the matching holes on the soft upper to create the shoe body.
Those pods, which remind us of fly's eyes at the heel, then serve as the shoe's outsole. The third and final piece is the shoelace that ties the upper closed. Nike promises that the shoe is still flexible, comfortable and durable, just with a new, more circular-oriented construction.
It will be interesting to see if the Link lasts as long as traditionally assembled sneakers. The recycling process itself won't be quite as simple as throwing the shoes into the curbside mixed bin, but the easy three-piece breakdown promises to make it easier than manually sorting shoe types, yanking out metal eyelets and separating out multiple materials several times over – especially for the sneaker owners, who need only drop the Link pieces off at a Nike store with Recycling and Donation Center.
In addition to promoting recyclability, the glue-less construction of the ISPA Link simplifies manufacturing. Without having to let adhesives set or use energy-intensive processes like heating and cooling, Nike says the shoe can be assembled with less resources in roughly eight minutes.
The ISPA Link is set to launch in June, and in 2023 will be joined by the even wilder-looking ISPA Link Axis. Nike intends to scale the sneaker recycling program to reach a wider audience, and move toward its greater sustainability goals.