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Circulating in Perpetuity: How a bio-based binder could assist Nike Grind in closing the loop

An investigation concerning the pairing and parting of Nike Grind’s rubber material with a biological nutrient

Photo of Daniel Penge
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As a group, we have come to realize that developing a bona fide system of circularity is remarkably difficult - especially when it comes to footwear. The rubber in your typical Nike shoe for example, is likely to be a thermoset polymer. It cannot be melted down and molded again. As the name "Grind" suggests, the rubber must be processed through a shredder in order continue its way around the product life-cycle loop. This continually downcycled material will eventually end up in landfills. Is there a way to prevent this?

We lingered on this query -

How might we prevent Nike Grind materials from continued downcycling? Can their performance as a feedstock within a closed system be preserved in perpetuity within the maintain/prolong loop?



How might we increase the material’s usefulness for a variety of applications? 

How might we combine a Nike Grind material (technical nutrient) with a bio-binder (biological nutrient) to create an entirely new, hybrid material that is considerate of its own end of life? While the fusing of unlike materials is typically harmful and counterproductive to circularity if permanent, what if they could be separated easily?


These are all the questions we plan to explore once in the refinement phase. With access to the material, we will assess the best combination of bio-binder and rubber. Maybe this hybrid material would be best for single-use objects like cups or packaging. Maybe it will have some longevity and rigidity to then function as a building material or say, the hard outer shell of a suitcase or urban design elements (see idea Nike Grind x Circular Cities). It is difficult to conclude without testing or prototyping. We believe the material’s physical properties will dictate its function.

Which Nike Grind materials will your idea utilize?

  • Rubber Outsoles
  • Rubber Flashings
  • Rubber Granulate

How specifically will these materials be incorporated into your solution?

Rubber granulate will be incorporated into the bio-binder. The resulting solution can then be poured into a mold meant for casting or compression molding. At end of life, and dependent on the bio-binder we ultimately choose, the composite material will be sent through an industrial process to separate the material. Theoretically, we may be able to send it through a batch oven, where it is heated to high temperatures. As a thermoset, the rubber will remain stable, while the bio-binder will melt off and be collected. The individual materials can then be sent back into their respective nutrient cycles.

Please include a visual (can be either 2D or 3D) representation/prototype of your concept. (required)

What is the current stage of development of your idea?

  • Research & Early Testing

Describe your target market. Who will benefit from your product?

Every system of circularity needs a functioning market. While we understand the necessity to hone in on a specific sector and design our product in a way that caters to user behavior, the nature of our submission is left open ended and therefore, we cannot directly answer this question just yet. We do, however, understand that the point of re-entry is crucial to establish true circularity and that the target market is key in determining re-entry. Who we cater to will be just as important as how.

How will you scale your idea? Please describe in detail your plan to scale your concept.

Our first step would be to identify the bio-binder that will work in tandem with Nike Grind’s rubber. We are currently reviewing our soy-based options. It is our goal to ensure the bio-based binder that is chosen is truly biodegradable/compostable. Maybe by way of UV light or heat? It is difficult to say at this juncture. It is a contentious subject of current discussion that we plan to fully analyze. Just as the rubber should act as a feedstock, so should the bio-binder. We would love to bring on a few non-designers; a materials engineer, circular business strategist and a logistics coordinator to start. Finding key stakeholders will be our major hurdle to overcome and hopefully several fresh perspectives will assist in that endeavor. We recognize the power in partnerships.

How is your idea innovative?

Our idea focuses on conserving Nike Grind’s material within the smallest loop of the technical cycle we believe possible. The smaller the loop, the more profitable and resource efficient. Retaining embodied energy, value and performance of the material will also provide future resource security.

What inspired this idea?

We gathered to chat over drinks one night in what became an impassioned debate around the definition of ‘circular’.

Tell us about yourself and your team. What is your background and experience?

We’re five industrial designers working across diverse industries. After many encounters at NYC-based lectures (i.e. circular economy, OpenIDEO), we recognized our interest in collaborating. This is a perfect opportunity to begin our partnership!

In what city are you located?


In what country are you located?


Please describe how becoming a Top Idea will support the growth of your concept.

As mentioned above, we would begin by selecting the correct biobinder, testing various concentrations of each material and analyzing their various physical properties. Scaling production and the separation method will then be where we spend most of our energy.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Our Workshop

It would be interesting to work with your results within Our Workshops submitted program. We also need the materials to move forward and test with (obviously...!). Perhaps if we get through there’ll be ways to collaborate and share?

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