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OrthoLite Unveils Its First Midsole Technology — a Recyclable Foam Made with Zero Plastic

OrthoLite has been making comfortable footwear insoles for 25 years, but the company’s latest innovation marks its first foray into midsoles. And the technology aims to solve one of the industry’s biggest issues: circularity.

It’s new launch, Cirql, is an eco-friendly foam that the company says is biodegradable, recyclable and industrially compostable and will be used to produce midsoles, the core cushioning component in shoes.

“Cirql is the world’s first true soil-to-soil solution for footwear,” said OrthoLite founder and CEO Glenn Barrett during a press conference today.

The foam — which will be manufactured in the company’s new Cirql factory in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam — is made from a new biopolymer that has never been used before in footwear. According to Rob Falken, VP of innovation at OrthoLite, it is  “made from responsibly sourced, GMO-free plants and other biodegradable materials, which is then formed in a chemical-free, zero-waste process with no curing.”

He added that unlike traditional EVA foams, which contain 10-15 ingredients, Cirql is a “mono material” foam with a single ingredient. “EVA foams have very little, if any, option for end-of-life for several reasons, but chiefly among them is because they are chemically cross-linked during their manufacture, and those many ingredients cannot be separated once foam,” said Falken.

By contrast, he explained, Cirql foam can be ground up and recycled to make new midsoles without any degradation to the quality of the material.

According to OrthoLite, this technology can be used to create midsoles for any type of footwear. The company hopes to begin collaborating now with brands and tier-1 factories with the goal to start product development in 2023.

Matt Smith, GM and VP of Cirql, who will lead the new division out of Vietnam, said the facility currently has the capacity to produce 150,000 pairs of midsoles per month, or 1.8 million pairs per year. “We have room to scale up capacity on site,” he added. “And the partners that build our machinery currently have capacity to produce enough machines to reach an additional 20 million-plus pairs within a year.”

OrthoLite said this technology has been under development since October 2017, and over the past five years has undergone third-party testing and analysis as part of a complete life-cycle assessment. As such, Cirql is USDA Certified Bio Preferred, REACH-certified (EU), RSL compliant (Intertek) and is Certified Industrial Compostable (Din Certco ).

During the presentation today, Barrett noted that partners have been asking for years why OrthoLite — with all its expertise making foam for insoles — didn’t make midsoles or other cushioning components. “If we were going to introduce our first midsole foam, we were going to do it right,” he said. “OrthoLite Cirql delivers on our impeccable standards for comfort, performance and sustainability. And by focusing on an end of life solution, it brings a truly sustainable footwear future within reach.”

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