January 11, 2023 

The world’s first sports shoe made of recycled cartons

At the start of every school year, moms and dads across Ecuador make a mad rush to buy new school shoes they hope will last. Now, thanks to Bunky, a leading supplier of uniform shoes, they can choose EcoBunky, trainers made from recycled beverage cartons.

Founded more than 40 years ago, Bunky is the first supplier of shoes for school uniforms in Ecuador, producing more than 2,800 pairs per day. EcoBunky represents a circular future for the brand: the soles are made of 15% polyAl, a material derived from the tiny non-fibre portion of a carton package made from polymer and aluminium.

“We tested various sole compositions. 15% polyAl was the perfect level for achieving the durability, weight and flexibility that Bunky was going for.”

Able to resist the pressure of each step, polyAl helps delay the wear of the sole, and its resistance to heat and humidity makes it perfect for all environments and terrain.

“When we were developing the material, we tested various sole compositions,” says Hedda Naranjo, Sustainability Manager at Tetra Pak. “15% polyAl was the perfect level for achieving the durability, weight and flexibility that Bunky was going for.”

A sustainable idea is born

Hedda was instrumental in sparking the cooperation between Bunky and Tetra Pak. As Sustainability Manager and circularity champion, she was constantly thinking of new applications for polyAl.

“I happened to know that COVID had caused Bunky sales to take a hit and the owner was looking for ways to bring new life to the brand,” says Hedda. “Suddenly, the idea came to me for soles made of polyAl. With circularity taking off and consumers wanting to make a difference, I had a feeling it would work. I pitched it to Bunky’s owner and away we went.”

A hotbed of circularity

In recent years, Ecuador has embraced circularity. Several federal initiatives and regulations have been initiated, including a roadmap to the Circular Economy, which takes a multi-sector approach, involving many companies and the public sector. And, among consumers, the demand for environmentally sound, socially responsible polyAl products is high.

“In Ecuador, we are wild about products made from polyAl, from building materials like roof tiles and siding to patio furniture, household goods and even jewelry,” Hedda adds.

“In fact, our recycling partner, Ecuaplastic can’t keep up with demand – they have to import polyAl from other countries as the current carton collection rate of 30% is not enough to feed their production.

Ecuaplastic is the main recycler of polyAl in Ecuador. Since 2011, the company has been working with Tetra Pak to expand the capacity of carton recycling and advance the recycling value chain in the country. Today, Ecuaplastic recycles 150 tonnes of polyAl monthly but the goal is to increase this figure to 400 tonnes each month. 

“In Ecuador, we are wild about PolyAl products, from building materials like roof tiles and siding to patio furniture, household goods and even jewelry.”


Merging global knowledge for local impact

The development of EcoBunky was a truly collaborative effort, with Ecuaplastic providing the material, Tetra Pak sharing the polyAl know-how and Bunky offering its footwear expertise and operational capacity.

“We achieved a real symbiosis, even though it was during lockdown and most of our collaboration was done remotely,” says Hedda. “We also managed to create an efficient local production process that minimises the use of resources.”

Christain Orbe, General Manager of Bunky adds, “Local production has a positive impact on players across the value chain, including grassroots recyclers, textile manufacturers, micro-entrepreneurs, distributors, wholesalers and more. And now, consumers also get to turn their steps into a positive footprint for the environment.”

For the launch of EcoBunky, 5,000 pairs of shoes are in production, with an estimated 100,000 pairs for the first year. They’re available in a range of styles and sizes to suit the whole family.

Hedda is excited to see her idea come to life in the market. “Now we wait to see how the consumer reacts to the product. From there, the sky’s the limit for polyAl.”

Read more about the sustainability transformation in our annual Sustainability report

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