Monday, March 18th, 2013

Recycled Plastic Bottles Become Stylish, Functional New Balance Shoes

The NewSky shoe from athletic shoe supplier New Balance is no longer new, but the creative and extensive way in which it employs recycled plastic — post-consumer PET (polyester terephthalate) from plastic bottles — in its design and construction has received far too little attention.

NewSky from New Balance

The upper of the NewSky shoe from New Balance is 95% recycled PET plastic bottles

The NewSky is one of a family of so-called barefoot shoes from New Balance, minimalist footwear designed to give the wearer the sensation of traveling on his or her bare feet, yet still providing protection. There are now many models from various suppliers, and they are increasingly popular among serious runners.

The NewSky, however, is not a true running shoe. It’s designed and made to be a recovery shoe, something a runner can wear around the house after a run presumably taken in another pair of barefoot-style shoes. Recovery shoes is a category I didn’t know existed. When my knees still allowed me to run, I recovered by wearing only socks — pretty close to barefoot.

Back to that recycling, the NewSky’s upper is made with Eco-fi, a material that is 95 percent recycled plastic bottles. New balance says eight 20-ounce PET bottles go into each pair, making the shoe a prime demo of a leading design/performance advantage of plastics: their high strength-to-weight ratio. A pair of NewSky men’s size nine weighs less than five ounces, which along with the barely-there mass of the

shoe can easily make the wearer feel barefoot.

Several reviewers enthused about the material’s appearance, a medium-to-dark gray with a felt-like texture. On its website, New Balance quotes Dave Rowell of Foss Manufacturing, the New Hampshire-based company that produces the fabric. He says the only real difference between Eco-fi and the polyester used in most apparel and home furnishings is that it is made of post-consumer bottles. “It actually has a higher strength than most of the polyester you’d find in your clothes,” and the same, or higher, performance as fabric made from virgin materials, according to Rowell.

For added protection, Eco-fi material is treated with Foss’s Fosshield antimicrobial technology, which inhibits growth of bacteria, mold, mildew, and fungus. The fiber is hydrophobic, so it repels water. Add in the breathability it offers, and Eco-fi seems made for running shoes, though not only. Its strength and durability let Foss talk about it for auto upholstery, carpeting, and more.

Eco-fi recycled PET material eliminated several traditional components.

Eco-fi recycled PET material eliminated several traditional components, including rigid heel counters.

NewSky designers say Eco-fi is different enough from traditional running shoe materials that they decided to include only what was necessary. A typical shoe has a number of different materials, whereas the NewSky, aside from plastic foam padding and a small amount of water-based glue, has an upper that is virtually all Eco-fi. Virtually all traditional running shoes have a rigid heel counter. The NewSky’s designers doubled up the Eco-fi material there and reinforced it with “strategic stitching” along the back seam, which is visible in the photo above.

In early prototypes, the designers even tried molding the material, heating it and pressing it to form the desired shape. They found the resulting rigidity interesting, but New Balance also emphasizes comfort in its running shoes. Reverting to more traditional stitching let the recycled Eco-fi remain soft, pliable, and comfortable on the foot.gray:black pair, small

Starting in late 2011, New balance teamed up with the bottled water brand Dasani and its PlantBottle packaging. Dasani is a Coca-Cola brand, and the PlantBottle, which consists of up to 30 percent plant-based material yet will recycle in PET reclaim systems, is a Coca-Cola development. “Step up and recycle” and “A bottle today. A shoe tomorrow” are the headlines of their campaign to raise awareness of recycling, and show how it can work on a larger scale. So quench your thirst, recycle the bottle, and enjoy the stylish footwear from New Balance. It works for me; maybe it will rehab my knees, too.

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