Apple AirTags Expose Shoe Recycling Sham, But Never Mentioned by Name
A team of Reuters journalists recently uncovered a dubious shoe recycling program being run by the government of Singapore and U.S. petrochemicals giant Dow Inc.
They did so by planting Apple AirTags inside 11 pairs of shoes before donating them — only there’s no mention of the AirTags by name, even though it’s pretty clear from images and screenshots included in the report that they were used. Instead, Reuters only said it used a “thin, round Bluetooth tracking device.”
Dow teamed up with the Singaporean government in efforts that promised to harvest the rubberized soles and midsoles of donated shoes, then grind down the material for use in building new playgrounds and running tracks in Singapore.
Since Dow has a questionable history of running recycling efforts that fall short of their claims, Reuters reporters last year decided to test the program by tracking donated shoes.
They removed the insole of one shoe from each donated pair, cut a shallow cavity into the sole, embedded an AirTag into the space, and then replaced the insole to hide it. Next, they used the Find My app to track the shoes’ journey, which was supposed to conclude with them being shredded down into raw material and used to build playgrounds and athletic surfaces.
However, what Reuters actually found was that most of the tagged shoes ended up with Yok Impex Pte Ltd, a Singaporean exporter of second-hand goods. Talking to the company’s logistics manager, the publication found that they had been hired to collect the shoes and deliver them to the local warehouse of a waste management company involved in the recycling initiative.
Unfortunately, where the shoes donated by the journalists ended up was entirely different (and even varied from pair to pair). Ten of the 11 pairs made their way to Indonesia and Reuters reporters were able to track them using the Find My app, ultimately recovering some of them from crowded marketplaces.
Reuters shared its findings with Dow earlier this year, with the company telling the publication on January 18 that it had launched an investigation. Dow informed Reuters on February 22 that its investigation had concluded and that Yok Impex would be removed from the project by March 1.
“The project partners do not condone any unauthorized removal or export of shoes collected through this program and remain committed to safeguarding the integrity of the collection and recycle process,” Down said in an emailed statement.
AirTags are designed to help users keep track of their belongings by leveraging Apple’s global network of more than one billion devices.
These trackers can do more than just uncover charity fraud — many travellers recently have been using AirTags to hold airlines accountable for missing luggage, and they’ve even helped recover stolen cars. Next time I find my motivation to study, I should put an AirTag on it.