Nike destroys new goods – the procedure is probably illegal


Status: 11/11/2021 6:00 a.m.

The sports shoe manufacturer Nike systematically destroys new goods that have been returned, for example. According to the Federal Environment Ministry, Nike may be violating German law.

By Manuel Daubenberger, Johannes Edelhoff, Willem Konrad, Felix Rohrbeck and Christian Salewski, NDR

The destruction of the new goods takes place under the guise of a recycling program with which the group tries to present itself as particularly sustainable. After the research, employees of a recycling factory in Herenthout, Belgium, throw new shoes into a machine, in which the shoes are then destroyed. Furthermore, the editors have evidence that the goods are returned by customers, so-called returns. The recycling hall is operated by Nike in cooperation with a local waste disposal company.

The white hall made of corrugated iron in the small Belgian town of Herenthout is part of “Nike Grind”, a sustainability program of the global corporation, for which old shoes are to be recycled and, for example, made into sports field surfaces. When asked, Nike did not want to reveal exactly where the hall is. A team of reporters from Ed, “Zeit” and the research startup “Flip” found them anyway. Because from here an old pair of sneakers sent them a GPS signal.

The experiment “sneaker hunt”

The sneakers come from comedian Carolin Kebekus. They are part of a large-scale experiment. For the “sneaker hunt”, the reporter team bugged eleven pairs of shoes belonging to celebrities with GPS transmitters. This is how it wants to find out: What really 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? Like hardly any other item of clothing, sneakers represent the fast fashion society in which more and more and cheaper production is being made. Overall, the fashion industry causes more CO₂ emissions than aviation and shipping combined.

The reporters handed in Carolin Kebekus’ shoes in the Nike store in Hamburg. As in other Nike stores, there is a return box with the label “Recycle your old shoes”. The shoes went from Hamburg to the corrugated iron hall in Belgium, as the signals from the GPS trackers show. There, however, the reporters found out, not only old shoes but also new goods are systematically shredded on a large scale. The filling paper is still in many of the sneakers. On an assembly line, they later drive into a shredder.

Carolin Kebekus’ shoes end up here like many other sneakers: in the Nike “recycling hall” in the small Belgian town of Herenthout.

Image: Panorama

Shoes also come from new goods returned

A second pair of shoes proves that the shoes are also returns that have been returned by customers. This was ordered directly from Nike’s website, equipped with GPS trackers and sent back to the company as a return. These shoes were also brought to the hall in Herenthout and then destroyed.

Environmental organizations like Greenpeace have long feared that manufacturers will destroy new goods directly in order to save storage costs, and because they have no interest in selling their goods cheaper. Discounts, so the concern, could damage the image of the brand.

Possible violation of German law

It is forbidden to destroy serviceable returns in Germany. Christopher Stolzenberg, spokesman for the Federal Ministry for the Environment, describes the matter as a possible violation of the German Recycling Management Act. “According to the waste hierarchy, waste prevention has top priority and takes precedence over all other disposal measures such as recycling.” According to this, when products are sold, it must be ensured that their usability is maintained and that they do not become waste. The responsible state authority must take action, there is a threat of a fine of up to 100,000 euros. Since Nike Deutschland GmbH is registered in Berlin, the Berlin Senate Department would be responsible for the environment, traffic and climate protection.

Sustainability boss is “surprised”

When asked about the research results, Noel Kinder, Nike’s sustainability boss, was surprised at the World Climate Conference in Glasgow last week. “Of course that’s not part of what we’re trying to do,” he says. A Nike spokeswoman later admits that at least returns “showing signs of possible damage or signs of wear” are destroyed and recycled. By only speaking of “signs”, the company opens up a wide scope for interpretation. The group denies that new, flawless shoes are destroyed. The spokeswoman writes: “Unworn and flawless items are being put back on the shelves for resale.”


The research is part of the “Sneaker Hunt” project, for which a team of reporters from Ed, “Zeit”, and the research start-up “Flip” hid GPS trackers in the shoes of eleven celebrities and disposed of them in different ways. The aim is to find out what really happens to our old shoes when they are put in the recycling systems of manufacturers and dealers as well as in used clothing collections. The media involved will be reporting on the results cross-media and serial over several weeks. On the common website you can follow the journey of the shoes on an interactive map.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *