Shoe Recycling Guide: Recycle Your Footwear Responsibly
The United States of America has the largest footwear market in the world, so it makes sense that this is a multi-billion dollar industry. The shoe industry revenue was over 91 billion in 2019.
Did you ever wonder what happens to these billions of shoes that are produced every year? Experts say most of these end up in a landfill.
The average time in which a shoe decomposes is 40 years. This is especially troublesome as old shoes can leach toxic chemicals into the ground.
But, it doesn’t have to be this way. There are much better ways in which we can dispose of old kicks.
Today I’ll talk about all the shoe recycling ways in which we can help other people and our planet, and maybe even earn some money.
Why Donating Your Shoes Is the Best Option?
I know how shoes can pile up in the back of your closet. Whether you’ve outgrown them, they’re overworn, or you need to downsize because of lack of closet space, donating your shoes is the best option out there. Here’s why.
If you think your shoes are worn out, it doesn't necessarily mean they’re worn out for everyone else.
Unless they have holes, extreme dirt that can’t be washed, or tears, your old kicks can still be of use to someone else.
The fact is, good shoes are expensive, and not everyone can afford them regularly. For a person worrying about the coming winter with only a pair of boots several seasons old, your discarded boots might make all the difference.
Ask yourself, how many of your shoes are truly worn out? I’m sure there’s at least one pair of old shoes in your closet which you don’t wear anymore because you've got a new one that works better with your outfits.
So, why not donate?
Most charities only sell 25% of what we donate and export the rest to developing countries. This means by donating, you’ll be helping third-world countries develop their markets for worn footwear. These countries have whole systems in place for repairing "pre-loved" footwear.
For example, Guatemala has a sneaker-cleaning plant, while Pakistan resoles men’s dress shoes in recycling facilities.
By donating, you are helping underprivileged people take care of their footwear issues. You’re also supporting the economy in third-world countries.
Where Could You Donate Your Old Shoes?
There are tons of great options out there for shoe donation. Here’s my selection of the best ones.
Goodwill is perhaps the most popular option for donating your stuff among Americans. The organization accepts cloths, shoes, toys, and many more, only if they're in good condition.
Here’s how the Goodwill donation process works:
Avoid donation bins as the stuff there supports for-profit organizations. Instead, go to a center that has attendants, which will make sure your shoes go to charitable organizations.
The Salvation Army
The Salvation Army makes it easier than ever to donate your old shoes.
Of course, before you do any of these, make sure your old shoes are either gently worn or thoroughly cleaned.
Soles4Souls is a Nashville-based charity. Since their founding in 2004, they’ve distributed over 53 million shoes to people in need in all 50 states of the US and 127 countries worldwide.
This charity accepts all kinds of shoes, even a shoe with missing pairs. However, the shoes should be new or gently worn and without any holes.
To donate to Soles4Souls, you can find a drop-off location or ship for free.
Share Your Soles
Share Your Soles is a Chicago-based charity. They also accept new and gently worn shoes. They put special emphasis on this because they want to preserve the dignity of people receiving the footwear.
While they don’t have the option of free pick-up, you can drop off your old shoes at their Chicago distribution center or some of the other drop-off locations.
Pickup Please organizes an annual bid in which all donated items are sold. The funds are used to fund the programs that support US veterans and their families.
To donate the shoes, you have to schedule a free pick-up. You can do this by using their online schedule form or calling their number.
Then, leave all your donations in a box labeled VVA. Place the box outside your home, and the charity driver will pick them up.
This is a Florida-based nonprofit organization. They collect formal dresses and accessories to help girls with financial needs get ready for prom.
Becca, a 16 year old cheerleader, honor student, and caring young woman, passed away in a tragic automobile accident on August 20, 2003. Today, her family and friends not only remember Becca for her great love and friendship, but also for her contributions to the community.
In the Spring of her Freshman year at Nova High School in Davie, Florida, Rebecca launched a dress drive to provide prom dresses and accessories to high school girls who could not afford to purchase them.
Becca’s closet accepts formal prom-worthy shoes. They should be new or gently worn.
You can send the shoes to any of the 70 organization chapters across the US.
Dress for Success
Dress for Success or a nonprofit organization that aims to give low-income women professional attire for job interviews. They accept women’s shoes that are good for work conditions, i.e., shoes that you can attend a job interview in.
You can drop off or send the shoes to any of their locations across the US.
One World Running
One World Running distributes running shoes to athletes in the US and worldwide. They’ve been helping athletes in the US and developing countries since 1986.
You can mail or drop off your athletic shoes in good condition to their locations across the US.
Sneaker Freaker is a magazine about sneakers. They have a comprehensive list of charities to which you can donate. It’s worth a look, especially if none of the charities I’ve mentioned above work for you.
Have Completely Worn Out Shoes? Go for Shoe Recycling
Many people aren’t aware that footwear recycling is a much more complex process than clothes recycling.
This is because shoes are more complex. Moreover, many soles are made of ethylene-vinyl acetate, which can release toxic compounds into the air.
However, there are some programs that do shoe recycling in a responsible manner.
TerraCycle - Zero Waste Box
TerraCycle is a privately owned company based in New Jersey that recycles any pair of shoes.
Go to their website, choose the best box for the shoes you want to recycle, and they’ll send the box to you.
To recycle old shoes, pack them up, and ship the box back to TerraCycle. It’s as simple as that.
TerraCycle will find buyers for leather shoe parts, which can then be turned into flooring or furniture. They also sell plastic parts, which are turned into soundproofing materials, containers, and more.
You’ll have to pay for the collection box. It starts from $129. It’s on the pricier side, but consider getting your neighbors or colleagues in on recycling shoes too.
Note: You’ll have to pay for the collection box. It starts from $129. It’s on the pricier side, but consider getting your neighbors or colleagues in on recycling shoes too.
The sports giant has its own sneaker recycling program called Nike Grind.
It’s great because they accept shoes from any retailer, as long as they are athletic sneakers. This, unfortunately, means no boots, sandals, dress shoes, or shoes with metal.
You can drop off the shoes in designated drop boxes in Nike stores all over the world. Check their website to find a store near you.
Then, Nike grinds them down and reuses them as surfaces for playgrounds, carpet padding, and even new Nike shoes.
Teva launched a recycling program TevaForever, together with waste management company TerraCycle, in April 2021.
Teva customers can mail their old sandals. Here’s how.
Teva will recycle shoes into playgrounds and running tracks. Their goal is to soon be able to make new shoes from old ones.
If you’re based in Colorado, good news! You can take your old kicks to any Runners Roost location, and they’ll be recycled free of charge.
The shoes are recycled into tracks, playgrounds, and shoes for the homeless or vets.
Got Sneakers is dedicated to sending shoes to underprivileged people around the world.
They organize sneaker drive fundraisers and encourage others to organize them as well. They provide all the necessary materials for the fundraisers and pay people for the shoes they collect.
They are mainly interested in gently used shoes, but they also accept ones that can’t be worn and recycle them.
Green Directory From GreenCitizen
Finally, the best place to find shoe recycling stations near you is to use Green Citizen’s Green Directory.
Our Green Directory makes it easier than ever to find shoe recycling places in your area.
In the “search for” bar type shoes, and in the “location” bar type the location you’re interested in. You’ll get tons of results in seconds.
Pick one that works best for you, and recycle your old kicks.
5 Creative Ways to Reuse Your Old Shoes
If you don’t know what to do with old shoes, here are five creative ways to recycle a shoe or a pair of shoes.
1.Baby Shoe Pin Cushion
If you’re a seamstress, you’ll love this idea.
There’s nothing cuter than baby shoes. Now, you don’t have to get rid of your baby’s first shoes. Instead, turn them into a pincushion.
You’ll stop losing the pins everywhere. Plus, it’s small enough, so it’ll fit into any space you use for sewing.
2.High Heel Coat Rack
Don’t know what to do with worn-out heels? Here’s a brilliant idea.
Attach the shoes to a wood plank so the heels stick up.
Hang the wood plank on the wall, and you’ve got a stylish coat rack.
Don’t stick to hanging coats only. This can be used to hang scarves and bags too.
3.Kids Flip-Flop Wind Chimes
Here’s another great idea for old kid’s shoes.
You’ll need one flip-flop, a pair of scissors, string, and chimes, which you can get from the craft store.
Use scissors to cut holes in the flip-flop for the string. Then use the string to attach the chimes to the bottom part of the flip-flop.
Once you’re done, place your new wind chime somewhere with a breeze.
4.Flip-Flop Welcome Sign
There are more wonderful flip-flop ideas.
If your flip-flops are heavy, find something for the back, such as thin wood or cardboard.
You don’t have to stick to welcome signs, but you can also say anything!
5.Old Shoe Birdhouse
Here’s how to use your old shoes and help the environment.
First, build a simple birdhouse with a shade with two small planks. You could just nail this shade on another plank.
Then, nail the shoe sole down to the base plank. Finally, attach the complete birdhouse to a tree trunk!
Put some bird seeds in the toe.
Birds will love coming to snack, or they might even take up residence in the shoe.
What Do You Do With Your Old Shoes?
I hope you found this guide on shoe recycling helpful.
My advice is always to donate old shoes. You can help someone in need, as well as the environment at the same time.
However, if your shoes are resembling Swiss cheese, then go the recycling route. Whichever recycling option you choose from the list, it won’t be a mistake.
I’d love to hear what you do with your old shoes. Let me know in the comments below, and sound off with any other shoe recycling questions you have.
Marina is passionate about sustainability and works to help ensure our planet stays as our home for a long time. She takes part in environmental conservation by recycling and not buying single-use plastic. When not writing, she can be found with her nose stuck in a book or trying out new baking recipes.