Grinding Out The Details

At the heart of its business philosophy, Nike Inc. has a passion for innovation and product excellence. But it’s not just in the way its products are designed, made and used. Now, Nike boasts an environmental innovation that goes beyond the creation of a product to the end of its life cycle.

Through Nike Reuse-A-Shoe and Nike Grind programs, worn-out tennis shoes that were once tossed into the trash now have a fighting chance at rebirth. The Reuse-A-Shoe program accepts athletic shoes (any brand) at the end of their life and sports footwear returned from consumers due to a workmanship flaw. These are given new life as Nike Grind, where the materials are used to create a variety of sports surfaces, such as indoor and outdoor basketball courts, tennis courts, rubberized tracks, playground safety surfacing and synthetic turf fields--all of which can be found from professional sporting stadiums to local public parks.

Before The Grind

While most shoes are collected through a variety of recycling initiatives, including community collections and special events at Nike retail stores, other shoes are collected through athletic clubs, schools and colleges. All athletic shoes are accepted--as long as they do not contain metal.

The Reuse-A-Shoe program also collects shoes that are returned due to manufacturing flaws and, in Europe, seized counterfeit shoes. In addition, waste materials and byproducts collected from the manufacturing process can be used in Nike Grind material. To date, Nike Reuse-A-Shoe has successfully collected more than 20 million pairs of shoes, and has expanded its shoe collections from the United States to include Canada, England, Netherlands, Germany, Australia and Japan.

Making The Grind

When enough shoes are collected, they are transported to one of two Nike Grind processing plants--in the United States or in Belgium--where each part of the shoe, from the shoe upper to the rubber outsole, is used. The U.S. facility uses a “slice and grind” technique, by which each shoe is cut into three slices that contain the main materials. These slices are fed through grinders and purified to become different types of Nike Grind. The facility in Belgium grinds up shoes whole, and then passes the resulting material through a series of complex separators that eventually produce the three main types of Nike Grind. The rubber from the outsole, foam from the midsole and fabric from the upper are all processed and refined to become the three types-- Nike Grind Rubber, Nike Grind Foam and Nike Grind Upper material. Once the Nike Grind materials are prepared, they are ready to be used by Nike’s partners to create sports surfaces.

Using The Grind

Nike’s environmental engineers worked with product developers in several industry-leading sports surfacing companies to incorporate Nike Grind into nearly every type of sports flooring system, including fitness-room matting and playground safety surfacing. Nike Grind partners each utilize the recycled materials in the creation of their surfacing products; however, athletic surfaces cannot be created entirely from second-generation materials. Therefore, the surfaces created contain an average of 10- to 20-percent Nike Grind materials by weight. Incorporating Nike Grind into athletic services also is believed to provide favorable performance attributes to surface systems. For example, lighter colors of Nike Grind can be segregated at the source in manufacturing, and are expected to reduce heat absorption in outdoor synthetic grass fields.

After The Grind

Recycling is not the end point. Through its community investment program, Let Me Play, Nike is committed to creating positive social change through sports. Nike Grind partners donate sports and play surfaces in underserved communities.

By removing barriers, enabling access and creating opportunity, Let Me Play uses sports to inspire youth worldwide by focusing on helping those with restricted access to sports facilities, equipment and funding. In the past, the program has worked with deprived and excluded groups, including refugees and the homeless; it also promotes sports to empower kids to be more physically active and to lead healthier lives.

Currently, Let Me Play has a large project underway in New Orleans. After the devastating effects of Hurricane Katrina, the metropolitan area of the city has seen a shortage of safe, high-performance places for local residents to engage in sports. Working with the Greater New Orleans Foundation, Let Me Play has begun plans to resurface five Recreation Department facilities by Nike Grind partners, effectively bringing sports back to the youth of New Orleans. Rebound Ace--a Nike Grind partner--is installing four outdoor cushioned basketball courts, and Connor Sport Court is installing an Elastiplus indoor system. In conjunction with the New Orleans Let Me Play initiatives, Reuse-A-Shoe collections have also been established at over 40 Nike retail stores, local schools and other retail stores in the area.

Down The Road And Beyond

Nike’s long-term goal is to create an entirely closed-loop process--from product manufacture to end of life to high-value products, especially new footwear and apparel--essentially eliminating waste at all stages. While this is still some way off, the Nike Grind program has made significant steps towards harnessing footwear waste streams, reducing the environmental burden of landfills and incineration.

The Nike Grind and Reuse-A-Shoe programs have not only helped reduce the environmental impact of producing and selling athletic footwear, but have also helped empower youth through Let Me Play initiatives. As companies worldwide continually look to integrate eco-friendly business practices and community give-back into their daily operations, Nike looks to lead the way by demonstrating its commitment to uncover innovative ways to reduce the environmental impact. Now, at least some athletic shoes are not just worn out, they play on.

For more information on Nike Grind and where to purchase an athletic playing surface from an exclusive Nike Grind partner, visit

Simon Lofts is the senior manager of corporate responsibility for Nike Inc.

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Partners And Providers Of Nike Grind

Connor Sport Court--producer of indoor hardwood and synthetic court systems. Nike Grind Upper material is utilized in the creation of the foam padding, which is used as underlayment on hardwood courts. Visit

Rebound Ace--provider of cushioned tennis court systems and outdoor basketball courts. Using Nike Grind Foam, the company creates multi-purpose courts, which can be found in the United States, Europe, Asia and the Middle East. Visit

Dodge-Regupol--creator of cork, cork/rubber and recycled rubber products. Incorporating Nike Grind rubber, the company supplies rubberized fitness-room flooring. Visit

Atlas Track--producer of track surfacing. The company manufactures all-weather track, basketball and tennis surfaces with Nike Grind Rubber in the systems. Visit

Playtop--Europe’s impact-absorbing playground safety surfacing manufacturer that installs its product worldwide. The systems contain Nike Grind Rubber in the upper-surface layer. Visit

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Pieces And Parts

A list of the parts of the shoe and the quantity of pairs of athletic shoes or the manufacturing equivalent that generally go into making each type of athletic surface:

· Outdoor basketball court: Midsole Foam; 2,500 pairs

· Outdoor tennis court: Midsole Foam; 2,500 pairs

· Full field or soccer pitch: Outsoles; 50,000 - 75,000 pairs

· Mini soccer field: Outsole; 10,000-20,000 pairs

· Running track: Outsole; 75,000 pairs

· Playground: Outsole; 2,500 pairs

· Indoor wood basketball court: Upper; 2,500 pairs

· Indoor synthetic basketball court: Midsole Foam; 2,500 pairs