The sneaker hunt


Status: 02.11.2021 6:00 a.m.

Eleven celebrities, 22 sneakers and one question: What happens to our old shoes? This shows a global GPS research from Ed, “Zeit” and the research startup FLIP on one of the biggest garbage problems of our time.

It’s a big question that so far little is known about. Every year around 1.4 billion pairs of sneakers are sold, twice as many as in 2012. The corporations generate around 70 billion dollars in sales with them. More and more shoes are being produced – and at some point they are disposed of because they have slipped through but don’t look so chic or the shelves are already overflowing. In Germany alone, over 380 million pairs of shoes are thrown away every year, almost five pairs per person.

Fast fashion – a lot of rubbish

Like hardly any other item of clothing, sneakers represent the fast fashion society, in which more and more things are produced faster and more cheaply. New models are constantly coming onto the market, displacing the old ones. The result is a huge mountain of rubbish. “The shoes consist of over 40 components that are held together with cheap glue,” says Michael Braungart, scientific director of the Hamburg Environmental Institute. The soles cause microplastics that harm people and the environment in equal measure. He speaks of an “ecological disaster”.

But if you want to know what happens to your own shoes after they have been disposed of, you will only get vague or evasive answers. That’s why we bugged eleven pairs of celebrity sneakers with GPS transmitters. A team of reporters from “Zeit”, the Ed and the research startup FLIP, want to find out: What happens to our old shoes after they have been disposed of? Can you trust the sustainability promises made by manufacturers and retailers? What are the consequences of our shoe consumption for the environment, our health and the rest of the world?

Different ways to travel

The GPS sneakers are disposed of in different ways – for example in old clothing containers, for example from the German Red Cross, but also from large retailers and manufacturers. In a Nike store they end up in a brown box that says: “Recycle your old shoes”. On a similar box at the textile giant Zara it says: “Give the clothes that you no longer wear a new life.” They are requests that suggest to customers: You can still do something good with your old shoes. But is that also true?

The many celebrities who make their old sneakers available want to raise awareness of the topic with their awareness. “I’ve always asked myself: Where do they end up then? What happens to them?” Says moderator Janin Ullmann. “Will they be burned, will they be dismantled, will something new be made of them? Or will they actually still be worn somewhere in the world?” Asks the comedian Carolin Kebekus.

We also sent the old sneakers of the SPD politician Kevin Kühnert, the musicians Jan Delay, Joy Denalane, Jakob Sinn (Revolverheld) and Marie Curry (neon black), the moderators Linda Zervakis and Michel Abdollahi and the influencers Luisa Dellert and Fynn Kliemann.

The sneaker hunt goes as far as Africa and Eastern Europe. It will cause manufacturers and fashion chains to have to explain. In order to document violations of the law, more GPS sneakers are smuggled in.


The sneaker hunt tells so many stories that it will be worthwhile to tell this great research serially over the next five weeks. On the website you can follow the journey of the shoes on an interactive map. More GPS sneakers are activated there every Thursday. In the newsletter of the research startup Flip and in the podcast of NDR Info there is a new episode every week. The young format of the Ed Television Ctrl_F will report, as well as “Zeit” and “Zeit online”.

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