More questions than answers from apology of SportSG and its partners for donated shoes in recycling program being exported for resale

More questions than answers from apology of SportSG and its partners for donated shoes in recycling program being exported for resale

Singapore’s shoe recycling program, which aims to recycle the rubberized soles and midsoles of donated shoes to build new playgrounds and running tracks, is under scrutiny following a Reuters investigation published on Sunday (25 Feb).

The investigation raises concerns about chemical companies exaggerating or making false claims about recycling, as 11 pairs of shoes deposited by Reuters in donation bins around Singapore over six months in July 2022, all of which ended up being exported instead of being turned into exercise paths or children’s parks in Singapore as promised.

In 2020, the National sports agency Sport Singapore (SportSG) announced a pioneering partnership with Dow, a major producer of chemicals, to transform shoes contributed by members of the community into rubber granules meant for jogging tracks, fitness corners, and playgrounds around Singapore. The ‘Others see an old shoe. We see the future’ project was meant to run for only three years but was turned into a permanent used-shoes collection drive in 2021.

The tracking data of the 11 deposited shoes showed that they had been shipped across the Singapore Strait to Batam Island, then on to Jakarta and other parts of the country. Reuters reporter Joe Brock tracked the shoes to second-hand clothing shops in Batam and Jakarta, where they were sold.

SportSG and its partners have responded to the article in a joint statement on Monday (27 Feb), saying they had already conducted investigations after being alerted by the news outlet in January 2023. They added that an investigation led by Alba-WH, the project’s collection partner, commenced immediately to look into the issue.

According to the statement issued by SportSG, the investigations were completed on 31 January, and vulnerabilities were found in the process chain with Alba-WH’s subcontractor, which led to the collected shoes not being sent for recycling. Alba-WH, in charge of collecting the shoes from almost 300 bins islandwide, had subcontracted the collection of the shoe recycling bins in selected parts of Singapore to Yok Impex, an aggregator for recyclables and reusables, in January 2022. The bins were sorted at Yok Impex’s premises before being sent to Alba-WH’s warehouse for registering and weighing, after which the shoes were delivered to the B.T. Sports grinding facility.

The investigation found that the supply chain was compromised only at Yok Impex’s premises, where some shoes were extracted for resale instead of recycling. “The aggregation of the shoe bins in parallel with Yok Impex’s sorting activities resulted in some shoes being extracted for resale instead of recycling,” said SportSG.

SportSG said that the program partners apologized to the public for the lapse and thanked Reuters for bringing up this matter so that they can take steps to remedy the situation.

Stopped sending shoes to Yok Impex’s premises

Alba-WH has since stopped sending shoes to Yok Impex’s premises and will not be renewing Yok Impex’s services.

Despite the setback, SportSG said that 10,000kg of used shoes were recycled to build infrastructure such as the Kallang Football Hub and a sport facility under construction in Jurong Town.

SportSG hopes the public can continue to support this important and meaningful program.

“We will also be taking further steps to tighten up the process chain based on our learning from this incident,” said SportSG.

More questions than answers provided by SportsSG

Given that the 11 pairs of shoes that Reuters deposited over six months all ended up being exported out of Singapore instead of being recycled, how much faith can we put in SportsSG’s statement that only some shoes were extracted for resale?

However, given that Reuters dropped the shoes in bins around Singapore, how likely is Yok Impex as one of the contractors, managed to collect all the 11 pairs and export them out of Singapore?

Reuters reporter Joe Brock used the Find My asset-tracking app on his iPhone to monitor the whereabouts of 11 pairs of shoes he fitted with location trackers. This Sept. 9, 2022, screenshot shows 10 pairs scattered around Singapore, where he had placed them in donation bins affiliated with a shoe recycling project. REUTERS/Joe Brock

The joint statement appears to imply that Alba-WH has more than one contractor.

However, according to a Reuters report, Yok Impex’s logistics manager, Tony Tan, said that waste handler Alba-WH was paying his company to collect shoes from the donation bins around Singapore and deliver them back to Alba-WH. This would mean that Yok Impex is the sole company responsible for collecting the shoes.

Given that Yok Impex is the only company collecting the shoes, the question remains: which contractor assisted Alba-WH in collecting shoes from the bins since the program launched in July 2021?

According to SportsSG’s 2021 media releases, their “first of its kind” program aimed to divert 170,000 pairs of shoes from the landfill each year.

If Yok Impex is just one of the “many” contractors, what are the odds of the company selecting 11 shoes deposited in different locations over six months from 170,000 shoes to be exported?

Premise of Yok Impex in Singapore

How does SportSG know that most of the shoes collected in their shoe recycling program were recycled, given that it had no idea such shenanigans were going on?

Did SportSG investigate where the recycled material used in sports surfaces was produced and what it was actually made of? And was the material recycled from old shoes donated by the Singapore public?

Regardless of the answers to these questions, what is clear is that trust has been lost from the public regarding the green program by SportSG and its partners.

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