How to Recycle Sneakers

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People buy an estimated 14.5 billion and 19 billion pairs of shoes per year. That averages out to about 2-3 pairs of shoes for every person in the world. In the U.S. alone, consumers spent $74.1 billion in 2017 on 2.5 billion pairs of shoes.

That’s a lot of shoes.

Of those sales, sneakers make up a significant portion of the shoes produced for sale each year. The global athletic shoe market was $58 billion in 2018. The number of sneakers sold is expected to rise to $88 billion by 2024.

Sneakers, compared to street shoes, tend to have a shorter lifespan. Over time, the support provided by a sneaker gets weaker which can adversely affect the health of the feet those shoes are designed to protect.

Depending on the type of activity, the lifespan of a sneaker can vary. Runners should replaced their shoes every 300 to 450 miles (or every six months) while exports recommend that weight lifters replace theirs every 12 months.

Recycle your old sneakers.

So, once your sneaker has reached the end of its useful lifespan, what next? Tossing your sneakers into the garbage will only have them end up in a landfill where it can takes hundreds if not a thousand years to decompose.

A more eco friendly method is to reuse or recycle your old shoes.

Reuse Your Sneakers

Your sneakers may be too weary to protect your feet while exercising, but they can still live on in your wardrobe as shoes for less strenuous activities like running errands or gardening.

Donate Your Sneakers

If your pair of shoes is still in pretty decent condition but you don’t want to hold on to them, the easiest option is to donate the pair.

Besides national charities in the U.S. such as Goodwill and the Salvation Army, there are organizations working to collect gently used shoes to be sent to other areas in the world to help people in need.

Organizations like Soles4Souls have micro-enterprise programs that help people in developing countries start their own business. Soles4Souls sends used shoes to those entrepreneurs who can then make money reselling them.

American outdoor recreation company, The North Face has a Clothes the Loop program that accepts used footwear (any condition, any brand) at The North Face Retail and Outlet Stores in the United States. All of the collected clothes and shoes are sent to Soles4Souls and people who donate can be eligible to receive a $10 reward which can be used towards a purchase of at least $100 at The North Face stores. The Clothes the Loop program is also active in The North Face retails stores in Germany and Canada. 

One World Running is a Colorado-based non-profit that cleans and ships used running shoes to people in need to places in the United States and around the world. There are select dropoff locations around the US but people can also donate their running shoes by mailing them directly to One World Running.

You can even round up old sneakers as a way to fundraise for your favorite organization. Sneakers4Funds has a program where participants can collect gently used or new sneakers, mail them to the organization, and receive a check in return. The collected sneakers are then sent to micro-entrepreneurs (small business owners) in developing nations who can then sell the shoes for a profit.

Recycle Your Sneakers

If your sneakers are too beat up to enjoy a second life on someone else’s feet, there are programs that will recycle sneakers.

Nike’s Reuse-a-Shoe program takes athletic shoes from any brand at participating Nike retails stores in the U.S. and Europe. Collected shoes are used in the company’s Nike Grind program which repurposes material from the sneakers to make sport surfaces such as running tracks, courts, turf fields, gym floors, carpet padding and playgrounds.

Rubber, foam, fiber, leather and textile blends from sneakers donated to Nike are separated out from each shoe. The material is then ground up and used not only to create new sport surfaces but some of the material is made back into new sneakers.

Nike France has a one-time per Nike Member program to make it easy to send in used sneakers. Users can request a Reuse-A-Shoe recyclable bag is made from an environmentally friendly thermoplastic resin. The bag comes complete with a preprinted and postage paid return label and can hold up to two pairs of used sneakers.

Upcycle Your Sneakers

If you enjoy being creative, then upcycling your old sneakers may be the thing for you. For example, sneakers can find a second life as planters.


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