38

About once every year or two I come to the point where I have to part with the shoes I've bonded with over my day in day out walks to work, the market, around the block yada yada. Trust me I wear my shoes to the max (i've even used wet suit repair materials to patch holes from the rather large bunyon on my feet to get an extra few months). I'm not talking about shoes I'm parting with as a fashionista - these are shoes that can't be re-used.

In the basic sneaker, there are several layers and materials:

  • leather or mesh upper body
  • cotton laces
  • soles: usually some combination of rubber, polyurethane, thermoplastic rubber.

The composite nature of shoes doesn't make their sustainable disposal easy. Moreover, leather and cotton can't be thrown in a recycle, and I'm not sure which of the above rubber materials are recyclable.

Two possible ways to break down this question.

  • It seems unlikely, but do any vendors take shoes and reuse the material in new shoes or otherwise?
  • what are the best ways to dispose the main shoe materials mentioned above?

Additionally, if anyone recommends a manufacturer that make shoes designed to be sustainably disposed, I'd be interested. However, nothing that will aggravate knee or foot pain. I'm mostly interested in how to dispose your everyday Nike, Pumas, etc

  • Having the same trouble figuring out what to do with old shoes (not athletic, in most cases). Leather hiking boots the soles have broken/come off of in chunks, Simple shoes (I miss them!) that are mostly holes, dance sneakers of which the soles have disintegrated, moldy old flip-flops. Nothing wearable. Thanks for the Nike tip! – user1363 Apr 17 '14 at 18:33
  • Where are you located? – Jan Doggen Feb 29 '16 at 14:32

14 Answers 14

21

Nike grinds up worn-out athletic shoes to make sports surfaces. They even use the fabric parts: http://www.nike.com/us/en_us/c/better-world/reuse-a-shoe

Leather shoes are a bit different, but many modern dress shoes use rubber and plastics in the soles. In theory, those soles are recyclable but it looks like Nike only takes athletic shoes.

I couldn't find any other companies that take old shoes for recycling with my (admittedly not very thorough) Google searching, but it looks like most shoe companies are using recycled materials in at least some of their products.

  • 1
    If you expand the list of manufacturers recycling shoes or make this a community wiki for others to do that, I think this is the best answer. @nate's answer is good, but there is always the chance that the donated shoes end up in a land fill. If you wear your shoes to the max (reduce), without chance of re-use, then recycling them seems the best bet. – Eric H. May 7 '13 at 18:49
  • I've done some more searching, and it seems Nike is the only company that takes shoes for recycling. Some parts of worn-out shoes may be reusable or recyclable in other ways if you separate them yourself, but I can't find any mention of other shoe recycling programs on the internet. – Evan Johnson May 8 '13 at 17:11
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    I doubt it's a coincidence that the shoe company that is based near Portland, OR (where recycling is popular and very well-developed) is the one that has found a way to make money by recycling old shoes. Every organization is influenced by its surroundings, and Nike's headquarters (and many of the people they hire to work there) happen to be in an area where sustainability is considered important. – Evan Johnson May 15 '13 at 15:56
  • @EricH., the wearing shoes to the max is definitely an issue. I am just about to retire my tennis shoes, that I used for tennis, and casual walking/light running. When they started to tear up after two years of nearly every-day use, I started to use them for dirty work, and now they are so torn up, and let in so much dirt and water, they’re too bad even for work. Still, I am considering keeping them for very dirty work, like concrete, tar, or painting. By the time I am done with them, any African child would be better off with a roll of duct-tape on their feet. – theUg Aug 4 '13 at 16:16
  • @EricH., and at that stage it is hard to find a shoe material recycler in many uncool and unhip states recycling-wise, such as Idaho. – theUg Aug 4 '13 at 16:17
17

One idea is to repurpose/upcycle them as planters. I saw this one at a street fair in Jerusalem last week. The artisan manning the table said that it requires only one change - drill or cut a hole in the bottom for drainage.

Shoe as Planter

  • 6
    Thanks for this, but it's not quite what I was looking for. My shoes are not nearly in condition to make something as elegant as this. Also, I'm not sure something like this would be sustainable in my case. In order for it to be sustainable, it's got to displace some eneregy or resource use that I, or someone else, would have otherwise demanded. If there was a nursery that took my shoes, created something beautiful like this and sold that instead of some plastic pot, then there would be a more compelling case for sustainability. If you know of anything along these lines, do let me know! – Eric H. Apr 8 '13 at 16:44
  • I hear you. We'll leave it up here anyway - maybe it will give someone searching along the same topic an idea or two. – Laizer Apr 8 '13 at 18:00
16

While this doesn’t answer of how to dispose of any which shoe, it may point to the types of products that are designed in more sustainable ways to begin with. There are manufacturers like Okabashi (flip-flops and sandals) that ask their customers to return worn-out shoes to them for discount towards new pair, and fully recycle it.

14

these are shoes that can't be re-used.

Without pictures, I can only guess here. But, if you're (a) in the US, and (b) have the time and internet access to be posting here, there's a good chance you still have a higher standard for usable footwear than many people in the world. If that's true, then I would recommend donating them. (If not, consider this answer to be for the benefit of others that read the question)

For normal wear patterns, it will often be the soles that wear holes. Shoes can often be re-soled multiple times. Your local shoe repair shop may give you a hard time if the shoes are in bad shape, but if you explain that you want to get them resoled so you can donate them to charity, they might be inclined to be a little more lenient with their policies.

Your bunion holes may not be an issue for others. If you really want to be generous, you might stop using your shoes earlier, just as the bunion hole starts to form. That would make the shoe much easier to donate. It would increase your total shoe budget, but might increase the systemic reusability of your shoes.

Where you donate is going to vary by everyone's location, so I'll just post one (US) link here:

http://www.recycledrunners.com/shoe-donation-programs/

As with many other sustainability issues, ideally, you could find somewhere relatively local (e.g. same country) to distribute the donations, since shipping old shoes takes energy, and your shoes probably already got shipped across an ocean once.

Remember: try to reduce first, reuse second, and recycle third.

  • +1, for reduce -> reuse -> recycle. I use my shoos almost to the end of their life (my wife does not like it), but I do this just for sustainability reasons, never thought to stop early and donate them, good idea thanks ;) – Radu Maris Sep 11 '14 at 8:54
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    I don't think that's stopping early and donate is rational. I think it won't even solve anything but it will make the problem even worst, especially if those shoes (and cloth) are given to third world countries which did not reach environmental awareness. You shoes will just end up in a river somewhere in Malawi and will also kill the few local business they have. How could any business compete with free stuff given from aboard? Generosity is nice, but doing things without thinking of the impact could create dramatic consequences. – JinSnow Jan 23 '15 at 16:19
  • The recycledrunners.com links seems to be broken. – THelper Feb 16 '17 at 8:53
9

The most sustainable way to do anything is by following the three R's: Reduce, reuse, and recycle, and in that order.

First, you want to find high-quality shoes that last a long time. This Reduces the number of shoes you have to buy/throw away. We've been conditioned to believe that shoes "just wear out" after a couple of years by companies highly interested in making us buy shoes over and over again.

For example, I have a pair of Aldo work shoes that I bought roughly 10 years ago, with rubber soles that are stitched onto the uppers. The stitching can be removed and the soles replaced by any shoe repair shop. In fact, come to think of it, you should perhaps find a shoe repair shop and ask them about what to look for in shoes that are repairable. It's their business to do this, after all, and are interested in your repeat business the same way that Nike is. My wife has had several pairs of boots that they've rejected because "all we can do is just glue it back on and hope for the best (and it will probably only last as long as they did the first time)", because the heels/soles were not stitched down, but glued instead. She didn't pay enough for proper repairable boots, while mine were built to last.

Yes, you can expect to pay almost twice what you're used to paying for shoes. However, if they last 10x as long, then you easily save money in the long run. This goes for lots of consumer goods. People in North America are conditioned to believe that cheaper is always better, but that almost always results in paying 40% less for something that has to be replaced over and over again, quickly wiping out the savings over a product that lasts many times as long.

Other people have suggested repurposing your shoes into something else, but that only ever works for artistic works (specifically, ones protesting the amount of junk we throw away), because really, your garden is going to fill up with old shoes pretty fast. The same goes for old mayonnaise jars, unless you're hardcore about sorting your massive Lego collection.

Recycling is your last resort, but one you're probably going to end up doing with your old runners.

Really. Start by buying a few pairs of Real Shoes (because we all have a need for different styles sometimes) and the problem basically takes care of itself.

  • I just had a pair of shoes wear out on me in a rather horrifying two months. I know of a good shoe repair shop locally. Would they be able to repair them so that they'd be like your Aldos and last a really long time? Ten years would be fantastic. (My shoes are New Balances, and I have pretty finicky feet, so I'd much prefer to repair my existing shoes than to try and find another brand that would work for me.) – Evan Lynch Sep 19 '14 at 16:08
7

Here is a helpful and more general listing for athletic shoes: http://www.recycledrunners.com

Portland, OR also has a shoe recycling program for non-athletic shoes, although you cannot include them in your curbside bin you can bring them to Far West Fibers recycling centers. So it seems worth checking with your local recycling center to see if they are also accepting shoes. If not, get some friends to together and write letters to the retailers where you shop, asking them to start accepting shoes for recycling.

  • The recycledrunners.com link is now broken. – THelper Feb 16 '17 at 8:53
3

These folks are called the American Textile Recycling Service. They take shoes, and although I do not see them specify on the website what they do with them, they recycle/upcycle/keep them out of the landfill. http://atrscorp.com/

3

I found this site whilst looking for shoe recycling in the UK. I've found European Recycling Company which is my preferred because they sort everything 400 hundred times!! and reuse everything including zips, buttons, rivets etc. even the dust from the process, but I don't know if they do US.

Also Rethink Recycling - maybe. But Swalco definitely is in US Hope that helps.

  • Welcome to Sustainable Living and thank your for your answer. Can you please elaborate what you mean with "they sort everything 400 hundred times"? How would this help from a sustainability point of view? – THelper Aug 26 '15 at 10:42
3

Well old shoes can be converted into gasoline by a process known as thermal depolymerisation (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thermal_depolymerization).

In fact this is not a very complex process. The energy required for the process however might not make it profitable. Then again installed solar panels require subsidies to be viable.

  • 2
    Welcome to sustainability.SE. We prefer longer, self-contained answers and ideally links to back up claims. Could you possibly fill in more details about the energy balance and subsidies, ideally with links to your sources. As it is your answer is likely to be removed as too short to be useful. – Móż Sep 1 '15 at 3:38
2

Good call mentioning American Textile Recycling Service in this answer. You can find convenient ATRS Clothing & Shoe Recycling drop offs in over 13 states nationwide. And it's easy to mail in a box of recycling too! Everything is reused, repurposed or redistributed - nothing goes to waste. Every pound is diverted from our landfill and helps a local charity along the way. Thanks to all for commenting and being environmental stewards in your community!! :)

  • 2
    Welcome to Sustainability! Just wondered - are you affiliated to ATRS? If so please edit your answer to mention this (see here for guidelines). – aucuparia Sep 1 '15 at 15:42
1

Recycle your worn out shoes (any type) at TerraCycle a Toronto based company. They recycle a variety of other products. To recycle shoes you need to purchase a box from small - large. A bit pricey but you could try to run a shoe recycling day at work and get your employer to pay for. Good PR and good for the environment.

0

I have 14-year old Mephisto leather hiking boots I've worn for daily 4-8 mile hikes, around town, travel, and yard work. Have had them treated and re-soled, including by Mephisto. But they're done. They even hurt my feet now as my feet have expanded from wearing hiking sandals recently. As I don't see a good way to repurpose or recycle them now, I'll keep them around for doing really dirty work on the property so I'm not ruining my next hiking boots by using them as work boots the way I did with these.

0

Nike grinds up old shoes and makes them into sport field surfaces. Sounds like good program. Unfortunately, though, the drop off locations are not plentiful.

http://www.nike.com/us/en_us/c/better-world/reuse-a-shoe

PLEASE NOTE: NIKE NO LONGER HAS THIS PROGRAM

  • 1
    Welcome to Sustainable Living! Thank you for sharing, but Nike reusing shoes has already been mentioned in this answer. – THelper Sep 7 '14 at 22:36
-1

It doesn't matter. At the end shoes are disposables. Chemicals are used to produce shoes. (for leather: chrome compound). Controlled burning is the end solution. However, you could reuse them first, but at the end....

  • 1
    Yes it does. They might be disposable in the end, but if you replace your shoes once a year for 10 years, that's 10 times as many shoes consumed as one pair of shoes that lasts 10 years. Reducing your consumption by 1000% is kind of a big deal. – Ernie Mar 17 '16 at 15:53
  • That is a big deal, so a very good start, but it is NOT sustainable. However, even sustainable energy is not completely sustainable, looking at the machines used for it:) – Terradon Mar 18 '16 at 21:39
  • How do you define sustainable, anyway? – Ernie Mar 21 '16 at 16:40
  • Capable of being continued with minimal long-term effect on the environment. Just googled for this:) My personal defenition is to reuse with the same quality without any environmental effects. So impossible to accomplish. So a more practical defenition is reuse at same quality. Often you see products being recycled to a less quality product untill not usefull anymore and ends up as real waste. This way we just extend the period of use and this is NOT sustainable. But lowering our environmental footprint, is a very good start though. – Terradon Mar 25 '16 at 17:45

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