Monday, June 17th, 2013

Comfort, Style, Closed-Loop Plastics Recycling Go Together

Okabashi Brands (Buford, GA) makes and sells shoes and sandals — mostly flip-flops —that are made of the company’s Microplast proprietary blend of plastic material. The footwear is colorful, they look cool, and thanks to the company’s concern for the environment, wearing a pair makes you one of they eco-friendliest people around — below the ankles.

One Okabashi customer’s well-protected flip-flop collection.

One Okabashi customer’s well-protected flip-flops.

Okabashi has created a closed-loop recycling system for its shoes and for the material it uses to make them. Virtually nothing is wasted and virtually none of its material goes to a landfill—ever. For instance, production scrap is fed to a grinder and then used to make new flip-flops and shoes.

But to be a fullyclosed-loop recycling system, the post-consumer waste, in this case shoes and sandals, must be recycled as well. So Okabashi created a system aimed at keeping its shoes out of landfills.

Okabashi customers, who sound more like fans, say the sandals and shoes are so comfortable that they wear them as often as they can. Naturally, they will wear out, but when they do the user simply sends them back to the factory in Buford, Georgia. To encourage the return of used-up shoes, Okabashi gives a coupon toward the purchase of a new pair.

Returned footwear is inspected for contaminants, then like production scrap, is sent into a grinder, softened and returned to the production line for its next life. Post-consumer and production scrap makes up 15 to 25 percent of a pair of new Okabashi shoes.

Okabashi offers more than flip-flops, and recycles them all.

Okabashi offers various styles, and recycles them all.

Alternatively, Okabashi advises customers that a well-worn pair can also be recycled locally by the owner, and suggests contacting to find a nearby recycling location that takes #3 material, the Resin Identification Code (RIC) for PVC/Vinyl. Does that give away the secret of the company’s proprietary Microplast material? No. Basic PVC is rigid, and wearers of these sandals rave about how comfortable they are. The secret is how that’s achieved.

The company says that last year alone it was able to regrind and reuse over 100,000 pounds of scrap material, which kept the equivalent of 10 tractor-trailer loads of waste material out of the landfills.

In a CNN video report on Okabashi Brands, the company’s VP marketing, Brad Laporte, said the company sends nothing into oceans or landfills. He also mentioned that, since Okabashi in one way or another uses virtually 100 percent of the raw material it works with, its costs are lower, which helps explain why almost all the company’s shoes and sandals cost less than $20.Okabashi logo modern

For that low price Okabashi gives a lot more than good looks and recyclability. The shoes and sandals are anti-microbial, said to help arthritis sufferers, and are endorsed by the American Chiropractic Association. They have Japanese-inspired massaging insoles and a real arch, are dishwasher-safe (it sanitizes them), carry a two-year guarantee, and are vegan-friendly.

Another feature appreciated by customers is that all the shoes and flip-flops are “Made in the USA” at the Buford factory. There are good economic reasons for that, but also some solid environmental benefits. The average shipping distance for Okabashi shoes is about 7 percent that of the average imported shoe, a difference of almost 10,000 miles, which translates into much less greenhouse gas in the air.

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