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Hidden AirTags crucial in Singapore recycling failure investigation

An AirTag on a keyring

AirTags have been used to investigate whether a program by the Singapore government and chemical producer Dow really recycled sneakers, but instead found most were exported to another country.

In 2022, the government of Singapore and Dow promoted an effort to turn the rubber soles and midsoles of donated shoes into a material used to construct playgrounds and running tracks. An investigation into the program determined that not all shoes that were donated actually got recycled, but instead were sent abroad.

After hearing of previous recycling failures by Dow, Reuters tested the shoe project by donating pairs of shoes to the effort. However, journalist secretly placed AirTags into the soles of 11 pairs, to try and find out where they actually went.

Multiple pairs of donated shoes were recovered by the report, with most found in Indonesia. One pair did stay in Singapore, but it seems someone may have taken them from the donation bin, as the pair were located about a mile from the bin itself.

According to the report, the tagged shoes were taken by a second-hand goods exporter who was allegedly hired by a waste management company involved in the recycling scheme.

On being presented the findings, Dow opened its own investigation along with state agency Sport Singapore and other program sponsors. Dow later confirmed the exporter would be out of the project from March 1.

A statement from Dow insists it and 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."

Commonly appearing in crime-related stories, AirTag does sometimes become involved in some surprising developments.

In June 2022, AirTag helped a passenger discover a lost luggage graveyard in an airline's offices. Meanwhile, in January 2022, a researcher managed to send an AirTag to a mysterious "federal authority" in Germany, in a bid to try and prove it was a secret intelligence agency.

Apple's Find My system has also been used with other hardware for other surprising results. In April 2022, a Ukrainian man was able to track the movements of retreating Russian forces, by checking the position of AirPods stolen from his home near Kyiv.