Supplement Feature - September 2009
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Floor It!

Finding the Right Sports Flooring

By Richard Zowie

The Shoes Beneath Your Feet

Using recycled rubber on flooring surfaces isn't an uncommon practice, but out in Southern California, they're taking it to a new level. One that involves using recycled shoes to resurface sports areas throughout Los Angeles.

One playground and athletic equipment designer, manufacturer and marketer is working with LA84 and Nike to build Freegame courts from rubber recycled from old athletic shoes. These sports surfaces include soccer, volleyball, basketball, field hockey and other sports.

The LA84 Foundation uses surplus funds from the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games to serve Southern California youth in sporting needs and to increase their knowledge of sports. To help in recycling efforts and prevent Nike's worn-out shoes from filling landfills, Nike created the Reuse-A-Shoe program in the early 1990s. The old shoes received new life as a recycled material called Nike Grind.

Nike Grind is exactly what it sounds like—athletic shoes ground up into a raw material to be used to create sports and playground surfaces, footwear and other equipment. Besides old athletic shoes, others used for Nike Grind include shoes with production flaws and scrap materials left over from the manufacturing process—nearly all of the shoe is recycled.

Currently, the Reuse-A-Shoe program has recycled more than 23 million shoes from America, Canada, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Germany, Australia and New Zealand. It recycles about 1.5 million pairs each year across the world. Once the shoes are collected, three sections of the shoes—outsole rubber, midsole foam and upper fabric—are processed.

According to Patrick Escobar, LA84 Foundation vice president of grants and programs, the goal is to work with Nike to improve 84 sports facilities in Los Angeles area over the next few years.

"In addition to good coaches and equipment, youth should have safe, adequate facilities to play the sport of their choice," he explained. "The Freegame court provides an environment where youth can concentrate on skill development and play."

The first Freegame court has been completed at the Algin Sutton Recreation Center in south Los Angeles east of Inglewood and was dedicated with the help of the community and retired Mexican soccer star, Jorge Campos (who was a goalkeeper for Mexico in the 1994 and 1998 World Cups).

Currently, Freegame courts are being used to run young youth soccer clinics and a league for ages 5 to 15, said Mark Mariscal, superintendent of the City of Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks Pacific Region. "The Freegame court is heavily used for basketball pick-up games seven days a week," he added. "The court provides a safe environment for recreation activities. Projects including Freegame are an asset to the department and are well received by the communities we serve. This type of public-private partnership sometimes is the only reason we are able to make park improvements such as this court."

Escobar said the first court was installed last year. "Once you install it, anyone can play a variety of sports. It's an excellent product and we're happy with the service, and it's very wonderful for the communities."

Escobar added that since the surfaces can be configured to different sizes, it gives a lot of flexibility.

"They also have a fence that's perfect for football and soccer, particularly for young kids," he added. "It helps them to work on passing and control of the ball."

According to data from Nike's Reuse-A-Shoe program, it takes about 2,500 pairs of shoes (midsole foam) to make an outdoor basketball court, outdoor tennis court and an indoor synthetic basketball court. It takes about 2,500 pairs of shoes (outsole rubber) to make a playground and about 2,500 pairs (upper fabric) to help produce an indoor basketball court. For a full field or soccer pitch using outsole rubber, 50,000 to 75,000 pairs of shoes are required. A mini soccer field using outsole rubber requires 10,000 to 20,000 pairs of shoes. And for a running track using outsole rubber, 75,000 shoes are needed.