Timberland Tires is a venture between the US outdoorwear brand, Timberland, and a Singaporean tyre maker and distributor, Omni United.
Next year should see the first footwear with rubber outsoles made partly from recycled tyres that were manufactured with this specific second life in mind.
Omni worked on a tyre compound formulation that adheres to EU Reach legislation on chemicals so that the outsoles would be safe for human contact, and the resulting brand is Timberland Tires. When they wear out they’ll be processed into crumb rubber. However tyre rubber can’t be easily reformulated to make outsoles because it has undergone a process of adding sulphur and heating called vulcanisation, to make it durable.
Reversing vulcanisation is a technical challenge but Sagra Maceira de Rosen, a strategy adviser for Omni’s board, says several companies have come up with solutions, and it is now pinning down which can offer the best process and price. Meanwhile, Timberland is carrying out wear tests on the resulting rubber. “We’re 100% certain we will be able to deliver on this,” she says. “Someone had to do it first but we expect others will follow.”
According to Maceira de Rosen, there’s real excitement because the devulcanising firms can see there is a market. The first footwear made this way will not be white, she acknowledges – that’s another challenge – but the concept has been proven.