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Yes, You Can Recycle Old Shoes—Here’s How

Want to recycle shoes? Here's what to do with an old pair that's too worn-out to donate to Goodwill or give to a friend.

Written by
Kristine Nguyen

Have an old pair of sneakers that's finally ready to kick the bucket? Your first thought may be to chuck them out and buy a new pair. But before you kick those shoes to the curb, you can learn how to recycle shoes instead.

In 2018, 24.2 billion pairs of shoes were produced worldwide. But according to the U.S. Department of Interior, 300 million shoes are thrown away each year... and that's just in the U.S. alone. Unfortunately, many shoes have soles made of Ethylene-Vinyl Acetate, which not only takes a long time to decompose, but also releases volatile organic compounds into the air while doing it. For each pair, it may take 30 to 40 years for it to decompose.

So what are you supposed to do with your shoes if you don't want to throw them away? There are actually quite a few initiatives in place for the shoes that you can't wear anymore.

How to Recycle Shoes (or Donate Responsibly!)

Terracycle has a program where you can recycle just about any pair of shoes you have. Just choose a box on the website that applies to the pair of shoes you would like to recycle, and they'll send it right to your door. Once it's packed, just ship it back and Terracycle will reuse, upcycle, and recycle as appropriate. There are boxes available for most types of shoes, including sneakers, sandals, and boots.

Just because a pair of shoes seems worn-out to you doesn't mean they'll seem worn-out to others. If your shoes are gently-used, consider Soles4Souls. Find a drop-off location near you, or ship your shoes to them for free. Soles4Souls helps people in developing countries launch and sustain their own businesses selling donated shoes. By collecting your unwanted shoes and clothing, they're keeping 66 million pounds of textiles out of landfills.

If you don't want to wait to mail out your shoes and want a more convenient option, there may also be some stores near you that have recycling programs. Nike has a Reuse-A-Shoe Program, where they recycle athletic shoes and give them a new life. Just take any brand of old athletic sneakers to a participating store and they'll do the rest.

If there are any clothing recycling bins, like the American Textile Recycling Service, in your area, they'll also take worn-out shoes off your hands. All you need to do is find the bin and drop off your shoes. That's it.

Instead of recycling or tossing out a pair of shoes, you can also try upcycling them. Give your chucks a new pair of laces, mend the hole in your trainers, or decorate them with pens and patches to give new life to old shoes.

The Takeaway

Whatever you decide to do with your well-loved shoes, make sure you've already used them as much as you can before getting rid of them. The most sustainable thing you can do is make the most out of what you've already got!