The China Slipper3 Mar, 2015 By: Art Diamond
As China moves from central planning to a market economy, state enterprises are being converted into privately-owned firms. This movement is creating entrepreneurs, such as Zhuman Fu, an innovative Chinese shoemaker who has found a way to convert waste toner into a leather substitute that weighs 30% less and is 40% lower in cost. His new line of shoes is being sold by China’s discount chains as The China Slipper.
Details are still sketchy, but it appears that Fu’s chemists are melt-mixing waste toner with a vinyl polymer and other additives to create a simulated leather that has a permanent gloss. Shoes that shine are definitely preferred, not only in high fashion footwear, but in military boots as well.
Think Byproduct, Not Waste
By converting waste toner into salable goods, Mr. Fu is adding value to an otherwise useless byproduct after overcoming the problem of importing waste. Recycling Times discussed this issue with a representative of China’s largest waste hauler, Fahflung Dung (FFD), based in the Gobi desert. “Bringing waste toner into China is politically incorrect,” said FFD spokesman Noot Ginseng, “Beijing officials have imposed severe sanctions against any such imports.”
Fortunately, one export broker in the United States—DDI of Holden, MA—has found a way around the problem by offering rechargers a nominal $5 per ton for their waste toner. This payment qualifies the transaction as the sale of a byproduct rather than the disposal of waste.
We talked with DDI’s CEO Don Drekker, who explained that shoes are just one of a variety of plastic products that represent a new use for waste toner. “Recognizing toner as an inert filler,” noted Drekker, “foreign manufacturers are compounding it with other resins and additives to produce benches, flooring, and a myriad of other products.”
The Italian Connection
We also spoke with Italian Consulate, Enrico Bandini, about the impact of such a development on one of Italy’s proudest exports, asking “Will synthetic, glossy shoe leather be adopted by Italy’s high fashion designers, such as Gucci and Capezio?”
Ever since Marco Polo brought the Chinese noodle to Italy,” replied Bandini, “we have respected the innovation and intellectual property talents of our Asian brothers. There is no doubt that Italy has prospered from the combination of Italian meat sauce and Chinese noodles that the world enjoys as spaghetti. “But,” he asserted, “making shoes from toner is unacceptable! In Italy, shoemaking is a fine craft, a skill that is handed down from father to son, and an industry that is critical to our economy.”
Endless Puns from the Old Guard
The China Slipper came up at a Hospitality session last June at Fess Parker’s Hotel in Santa Barbara, CA during an annual Toner Seminar. A group that I call the Old Guard, consisting of the world’s top toner experts, was kicking the idea around. Asked whether waste toner exporters in the USA would accept the quoted price of $5 a ton from a Chinese shoe producer; one authority said, “That deal would be a shoe-in!” He then added, “Nobody is going to shine it on!”
“Only a heel would refuse such an offer,” came another wisecrack, but when I wheeled around to see where it came from it was too late. Before I could spot the perpetrator, another anonymous voice stepped in with: “Is the shoemaker a sole producer?”
The next few shots came faster:
“Is there a patent on this glossy leather substitute?”
“Do you think zinc stearate will make them easier to slip-on?”
I spun around again, but nobody cracked a smile. Then came the next kicker.
“Is he bootstrapping this business, or is the Chinese government kicking in some serious RMBs?”
The follow-up was, “Excuse me sir, do you have these same black boots in a size one micron larger?”
Determined to get the conversation back on track, I unwittingly asked, “Okay fellas, how long is this contest going to last?” Oops, that started another round!
“I wonder who is footing the freight bill? And so it went, well into the night.
Art Diamond is an experienced veteran in the office supplies industry and Senior Consulting Editor for Recycling Times. Visit www.irecyclingtimes.com for detailed info.