Shoe recycling is a great way to avoid wasting old, unwanted shoes. Even the best quality shoes wear out at some point, and it’s helpful to know what’s the most eco-friendly course of action when that happens.
In 2019, 24.3 billion pairs of shoes were produced, and most of them were or will be sent to landfill.1 While there are plenty of sustainable shoes made from upcycled and recycled materials, knowing how to keep them from becoming waste is crucial. This guide covers the types of shoes that can be recycled, where to recycle them, other environmentally friendly options, and more.
What Types of Shoes Can Be Recycled?
Generally, you can recycle any type of shoe. However, what you can and cannot recycle will be dependent on each service for recycling.
After knowing the types of shoes that can be recycled, you need to factor in the conditions of the product. Programs aiming to truly recycle the shoes will take them in any condition. Donation stations, on the other hand, will only accept gently used shoes that can be reused by someone else.
Other Ways to Make the Most of Old Shoes
Not every place that says it recycles shoes is necessarily making a new product. Instead, they might be reclaiming the shoe itself and putting it back into the economy to be reused. If your shoes aren’t completely worn out, here are some additional options for you.
Repair Your Shoes
Repairing your shoes isn’t a go-to option for most people, especially today. While shoe repair is a dying industry, the cobblers that are still around are busier than ever. Investing in a good pair of shoes and simply having them repaired when needed can save you money in the long run. The Shoe Service Institute of America says a good pair of men’s shoes can be resoled seven to 10 times and can last up to 30 years, while women’s shoes can be resoled three to five times.
Check to see what kind of programs to donate your shoes are near you. Asics works with Give Back Box to put shoes and clothing back into the use cycle. Through this program, you simply fill up the shipping box that was used to ship the products you purchased with gently used apparel and shoes. After attaching the pre-paid shipping label, you can drop it off at the carrier named on the label. These items will be donated to people in need.
Soles4Souls is another donation program for gently used shoes. This nonprofit organization provides income opportunities through selling the shoes. One World Running is a similar program that donates running shoes to those in need within the United States and around the world. They also have a special program to provide running shoes for military recruits who can’t afford them free of charge. Donated shoes that can’t be reused through their program are recycled.
Donated clothing that ends up overseas has received plenty of criticism for the way it impacts local economies. Though not as much has been written about shoes, the donation model for shoes has mainly focused on Toms Shoes. Yet, it wouldn’t be a far leap to assume that shoes may have a similar impact as donated apparel. Finding a nonprofit that supports local communities will be a better option
You can even resell the shoes on your own. There are plenty of platforms available to resell gently used items. From Mercari to Poshmark to eBay and even a local consignment shop—you can whittle down your closet, reduce waste, and lessen your environmental impact.
Check Out ReCircled
ReCircled is focused on taking our linear economy and making it circular. Their aim: to put clothing and accessories back to use instead of putting them in a landfill.
If you’re unsure if your shoes are still usable, this is a great place to send them. ReCircled will sort shoes of all types for you. Those that can be reused are sent to be cleaned and repaired and then resold; likewise, those that can’t be repaired are sent to recycling partners to be broken down into raw materials.
The one downside is that ReCircled is another company that works primarily with brands. You can look up the specific brand of your shoe and see if they offer a recycling program. If not you could always petition for them to start one sitting ReCircled as an option for them to work with.