A German investigative documentary titled BasketJagd (translation: Sneaker Hunt) made troubling accusations regarding Nike’s sustainability practices.
The documentary claims Nike is sending barely worn and returned items to a shredding facility in Belgium. The, BasketJagd alleges the shoes are destroyed to make Nike Grind, a rubber compound used by Nike to make new sneakers, among other things.
BasketJagd is a public service sponsored documentary produced by Let’s Flip, a company that aims to demonstrate why our consumption and manufacturing habits cannot continue. He has since tested the sustainability promises of various brands and organizations.
Many sportswear and fast fashion brands encourage customers to drop off their old or damaged sneakers in donation boxes in their stores. In Nike’s case, consumers are told that their old sneakers will go to a factory that breaks down the shoes and turns the leftover materials into Nike Grind, essentially giving new life to the old sneakers.
In theory, this is a great way to create a circular economy. SneakerJagd’s The results, however, cast doubt that Nike is just shredding old and used sneakers.
To find out exactly what is going on behind the scenes of said donation boxes, BasketJagd GPS trackers embedded in the soles of old but not really old sneakers belonging to various German celebrities, who then “gave” them to stores across the country. The crack crews then tracked the GPS signal to see if it matched what the customer was told after they dropped their shoes.
When BasketJagd asked Nike where the shoes would be broken down (you can see the episode in German here after creating a free connection), it was reportedly said in Meerhout, Belgium. About two weeks after the shoes were donated, the recap claims that a GPS signal came from a small town about a 30-minute drive from Meerhout. The team ended up traveling to the provincial town to visit the facility in person, where they claim to have made some surprising discoveries.
According to BasketJagd, the facility had a sign in Dutch which described it as a “pre-treatment facility for garment recycling”. When checking the installation, BasketJagd claims he was able to look through the open windows to see workers handling shoes and a large machine that looked like a shredder. Entering the establishment under false pretenses, the SneakerJagd team claim to have seen what appeared to be new and barely worn sneakers being shredded by the establishment.
To test if the wearable sneakers were really shredded by the establishment, BasketJagd decided to buy a new pair of Nike shoes, equip them with another GPS tracker and bring them back to Nike. BasketJagd claims the shoes ended up at the same facility, which he says is proof that not only the old and faulty sneakers end up in the shredder, but the returned shoes as well.
It is important to note that by placing the GPS tracker in the sole of the shoe, it could be said that BasketJagd manipulated the integrity of the original construction. A point that Nike makes in its statement to Highsnobiety (read in full below).
On their second visit to the facility, the team spoke to facility employees (again under false pretenses), who told them that much of the sneakers that went through the property appeared to be in good repair. Workers at the facility apparently even saved sneakers they thought were “too good to destroy.”
BasketJagd explains that this is against the law in Germany, where brands are not allowed to destroy a product that is deemed to be still usable. A German government spokesperson confirms that anyone who breaks this law can be fined up to € 100,000.
The investigation team forwarded their findings to Nike, who issued the following statement (translated from German): “[Next to worn products] We also recycle used test products, defective products, counterfeit products, sales samples and other shoes that are not in good condition to help athletes reach their performance potential with Nike Grind. If any evidence of use or defects are discovered, these shoes are recycled at our Nike Grind facility. The new and unworn product is put back on the shelves.
BasketJagd claims to have seen multiple return labels and what appeared to be unworn shoes, which made them doubt that only defective and worn shoes were being sent to the facility. Over the past two years, Nike has put sustainability at the forefront of its branding message, pushing its Move To Zero campaign. Improving its carbon footprint has become a priority in campaigns aimed at consumers.
Highsnobiety cannot determine with absolute certainty whether SneakerJagd’s the conclusions are true, nor is what actually happens in the facility that shreds Nike shoes, as hidden camera videos show. What Sneakerjagd’s The multi-part documentary, however, poses the uncomfortable question of “do we really know what happens to our sneakers and discarded clothes?” “
Nike released the following statement in response to Highsnobiety’s request for comment:
“The vast majority of shoes returned to Nike by consumers are resold. To ensure the safety and performance of athletes with confidence, all shoe returns are analyzed for any damage or alteration. Returned products that show signs of damage or unacceptable wear and tear are sent for recycling. Unworn and impeccable items are put back on the shelves for resale. Additionally, Nike sends Nike Grind wear test samples, defective products, sales samples, and other footwear that is not suitable for performance.
Images and media reports show that a new Nike performance basketball shoe was ordered from nike.com, opened and tampered with when a GPS tracker was inserted into the product before being returned. This could pose a danger to the safety of athletes and consumers in the event of resale. In accordance with our policy and to ensure the safety of athletes and consumers, counterfeit shoes are sent for recycling at our Nike Grind factory.
We recognize that there are always opportunities to do more for the planet. To help extend the life of some of these returned products, Nike recently launched Refurbished in the US, and we’ll start piloting the program in the EMEA region next month. Refurbished allows Nike to extend the life of products that have been gently worn before being returned by storing them and making them available to buyers at a reduced price.
Watch the Nike episode of SneakerJagd here.