The world’s first footwear recycling system was developed by a team of researchers at the Centre for Sustainable Manufacturing and Recycling Technologies (SMART) at Loughborough. This footwear recycling system is able to recover different material streams from footwear including leather, foam, rubber, plastics, and textiles by using various fragmentation and separation processes including granulation, air-based, density-based and size-based systems. It currently recovers materials that are considered to be ‘down-cycled’ and only suitable for low value applications such as insulation, construction and surfacing materials. Higher quality and purity of materials can be achieved through repetition of fragmentation and separation processes, but this increases throughput time and hence the overall cost of recycling. While the system has proved thoroughly practical in terms of technology, it needs to operate on a large scale basis in order to become commercially viable.
The successful candidate is expected to investigate novel and advanced recycling systems in which a range of used products with similar material content can be processed. These systems utilise a series of ‘plug and play’ interchangeable processes to provide flexibility to recycle on the same line leather apparels (including leather luxury goods such as handbags, briefcases, wallets, purses and travelling bags), as well as leather products from other manufacturing sectors such as automotive and furniture industry. This research will benefit from direct involvement of a wide range of relevant stakeholders including footwear manufacturers and retailers, chemical producers and tanners, as well as designers, consumers and charitable organisations.