Recycling Mystery: How to Recycle Your Tennis Shoes

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You jog in them. Compete in them. Maybe even meet your friend for lunch in them. They add an extra bounce to your step and urge you to take the stairs instead of the elevator. When the last thing you want to do is wake up for that morning run, they are there for you.

They have a special place in your closet and your heart. They are your tennis shoes. But what happens once you’ve loved them to death?

Even though we get lots of life out of our shoes, the U.S. Department of the Interior reports that Americans throw away at least 300 million pairs of shoes annually. In a landfill, it takes 30 years for shoes to decompose.

There are two methods for keeping sneakers out of landfills: donation and recycling.

The Overseas Shoe Market

In addition to secondhand stores that accept shoes — like Goodwill and Salvation Army — there are organizations specializing in shoe donation. Tennessee-based Soles4Souls has collected more than 30 million pairs of shoes since 2006 and distributed them to children in need from 127 countries.

Soles4Souls accepts all types of shoes, even flip-flops and dance shoes, as long as they are new or gently worn. As a 501(c)(3) organization, all donations are tax-deductible. There are drop-off locations throughout the U.S., or you can donate them through a partnership with Zappos that includes free shipping.

Shoes into Playgrounds

If you’ve worn those kicks into the ground, then recycling will be your best bet. Nike’s Reuse-A-Shoe program has you covered.

Since the early 1990s, the Reuse-A-Shoe program has collected worn-out athletic shoes and salvaged materials to make Nike Grind, which is composed of nearly every part of an old running shoe: rubber from the outsole, foam from the midsole and fabric from the upper. Nike Grind also contains pre-consumer material, including manufacturing scraps and shoes with manufacturing defects.

“The recycled shoes are given new life,” says Simon Lofts, director of Nike Inc. Sustainable Business & Innovation. “They are reborn into sports and playground surfaces around the world.”

These surfaces range from neighborhood playgrounds to professional athletic surfaces for the NFL and MLB.

Bring up to 10 pairs of any brand of athletic shoe to a Nike Store near you. If you don’t live near a store, you’ll need to mail the shoes to Nike’s recycling facility in Belgium (unfortunately, Nike doesn’t cover shipping costs).

Other shoe manufacturers also offer product takeback:

The non-Nike recycling method for sneakers involves breaking them down into four materials: leather, foam, rubber and other. Leather gets bonded into new leather sheets, the foam can be recycled into carpet padding, rubber can be used for new shoes or surface material and other material often becomes insulation.

Your shoes may be leaving their trusty place by your side, but they’ve got plenty of life ahead of them.

This article was originally published on July 12, 2010. It was updated by Trey Granger on April 27, 2018.

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Mary Mazzoni

Mary Mazzoni

Mary is a lifelong vegetarian and enjoys outdoor activities like hiking, biking and relaxing in the park. When she’s not outside, she’s probably watching baseball. She is a former assistant editor for Earth911.
Mary Mazzoni

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