The microplastic problem is huge.

An increasing amount of scientific research demonstrates that microplastics are essentially everywhere–in the oceans, soils, atmosphere, in organisms, and even in your own poop! Microplastics are small, plastic particles, less than five millimeters long, and are born as the result of wear and tear as well as the breakdown from larger plastic products. As the world is beginning to unravel the microplastic impacts on human health and the environment, there is a need for more research to further understand its consequences. Our project aims to understand this problem from the footwear industry.


While there are several sources of microplastic pollution, a 2017 International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) reported that the shedding of footwear contributes a significant amount of microplastics into the oceans each year. This is primarily due to the wear down of the rubber outsoles which is the part of the shoe that directly rubs against the surface of the ground while being used. Our hope is that our project will be the starting gun to educate and be a reliable tool to quantify the footwear industry's contribution to the overall microplastic problem. Please read below to learn more about our project!

the project:


In partnership with Adidas AG, the Future Footwear team is seeking to understand the microplastic problem that is generated from the footwear industry within the United States. Below are the objectives for this year-long research project:​

This is being quantified through data obtained from our wear test and the development of our calculation model.

Quantify the current magnitude of microplastic pollution generated by outsole materials in footwear through wear loss.​


Identify the factors with the greatest impact on outsole material loss in footwear. 

We have chosen to focus on the shoes:

hardness, geometry, & material (synthetic vs. natural rubber)


our approach



Pre-assessment of 60 shoe pairs

5-month wear test


& analysis

Adidas AG is a multinational sportswear corporation that designs and manufactures apparel, footwear, and sports accessories. As the second largest footwear producer in the world, Adidas produces approximately 400 million pairs of shoes annually and is the industry leader for textiles and apparel sustainability.

Adidas is striving to improve its supply chain and reduce impacts on the environment. The company has incorporated sustainability at the product level and successfully partnered with Parley for the Oceans, creating shoes made from ocean plastic.


Adidas has ambitious 2020 Sustainability Targets and is partnering with the Bren School of Environmental Science and Management and FutureFootwear to understand the footwear industry’s contribution to microplastic generation.  


We see it as an obligation for us as a global company to do business in a responsible and sustainable way.

- Kasper Rorsted, Adidas CEO

our client: