hands putting used shoes into clothing container for recycling

Are your old, beat-up shoes taking up valuable closet space? Before you toss them in the trash, hold on a minute! There's a greener alternative – recycling. Yes, you heard it right. Shoes can be recycled, and in this blog post, we'll dive into everything you need to know about recycling those worn-out or ill-fitting pairs.

Whether you're an eco-conscious individual looking to reduce your environmental impact and carbon footprint or simply curious about how shoe recycling works, we've got you covered.

Should Shoes Be Trashed or Recycled?

When faced with a pair of shoes that have seen better days, many of us instinctively reach for the trash can. But is that really the best choice for the environment? Let's take a closer look.

Pros of Trashing Shoes: Convenience

Throwing away shoes is often the quickest and easiest option. You simply toss them in the trash, and they're out of your sight. But that's about as far as the pros of trashing shoes go.

Cons of Trashing Shoes

On the other side of things, the cons of trashing shoes heavily outweigh the one pro:

  • Environmental Impact: The vast majority of shoes end up in landfills, where they can take decades or even centuries to decompose fully. This contributes to the growing problem of landfill waste.
  • Resource Waste: Shoes contain valuable materials like rubber, leather, and plastic that could be repurposed or recycled to reduce the need for new resources.
  • Missed Recycling Opportunities: By throwing shoes in the trash, you miss the chance to contribute to a more sustainable and circular economy in the shoe industry.

landfill with burning trash pile

Why You Should Recycle Shoes: Pros & Benefits of Recycling Shoes

Did you know that over 300 million pairs of shoes end up in landfills each year in the US alone? On a global scale, that number reaches a sky-high 22 billion. Is your shoe rack a ticking time bomb of waste, or can it be a catalyst for positive change?

Recycling your shoes is not just a choice but a crucial commitment to a sustainable future. So, why is recycling shoes good?

  1. Reducing Waste: Recycling helps divert shoes from their landfill fate and helps reduce the environmental impact of waste by supporting eco-friendly practices.
  2. Conserving resources: Recycling shoes allows valuable materials like rubber, leather, and plastic to be reused, reducing the demand for new resources and lowering the carbon footprint of shoe production.
  3. Supporting sustainable practices: Many shoe manufacturers are now incorporating recycled materials into their products, promoting sustainability and a circular economy in the footwear industry.

Cons of Recycling Shoes

The only catch to recycling shoes? It demands a bit of effort. Finding the right recycling programs or drop-off locations for shoes may take a tad of research and legwork, depending on your location. However, it's so minimal that it's hardly an issue at all.

What Can You Recycle? Types of Shoes That Can Be Recycled

Most types of shoes can find their way into recycling programs or bins. However, not all shoes are equal, so not all shoes are suitable for recycling. Keep in mind that the recyclability of your kicks might also hinge on the specific recycling service you're using.

Now, here's a breakdown of the types of shoes that are usually recyclable:

  • Athletic shoes and sneakers: Athletic shoes and running shoes often contain shoe materials like rubber and foam that can be repurposed.
  • Old, beat-up shoes: Can really old shoes be recycled? Even those worn-out shoes hiding in the back of your closet you don't think are salvageable can find a second life.
  • Shoes with metal: Some shoes have metal eyelets or support structures, which can be extracted and recycled separately.

While recycling is fantastic, not all parts of a shoe can be repurposed. What fabrics cannot be recycled? Some shoes can contain heavy metals and other toxic chemicals that can be harmful to the environment if not handled properly, making them unsuitable for recycling. 

When Should I Throw Out Shoes?

Before we jump into the recycling process, it's essential to know when to part ways with your beloved footwear. When it comes to shoe recycling, the focus isn't solely on breaking down materials for reuse.

Instead, the primary aim is to extend the lifespan of shoes by keeping them on people's feet for as long as possible before they eventually bid farewell to the shoe rack for good. Recycling, in this context, leans towards the idea of keeping shoes functional and in use, benefiting both wearers and the environment.

While it's true that a skilled cobbler can work wonders with some damaged shoes, there are moments when your trusty footwear reaches a point of no return, where even the most talented repair work won't cut it.

Signs that it might be time to bid adieu and consider recycling include:

  • Visible wear and tear: When your shoes bear the scars of time and wear, displaying irrevocable wounds such as unfixable holes, soles that defy any rescue, or an overall condition that's beyond repair, it's time to consider recycling.
  • Uncomfortable fit: Shoes that no longer provide the support and comfort you need should be replaced. After all, prioritizing your well-being, comfort, and safety should be front and center when it comes to choosing your footwear, especially safety footwear.
  • Out of style: Fashion trends evolve, and if your shoes are no longer in vogue and you want to keep up with the times, it might be time for an upgrade.

pair of dirty old brown shoes on paving floor

How to Know If Shoes Are Recyclable?

Determining whether your shoes are recyclable is a crucial step in the journey toward eco-friendly footwear practices. Here's a handy guide to help you discern if your shoes are recyclable:

  1. Check the Material Composition: Start by inspecting the materials used in your shoes. Many athletic sneakers and casual shoes are made from recyclable materials like rubber, foam, and fabric. Shoes made primarily from natural materials may be composted if they are in decent condition.
  2. Look for Special Recycling Symbols: Some shoe manufacturers label their products with recycling symbols or information on recyclability. Keep an eye out for these indicators on the shoe or its packaging.
  3. Inspect the Condition: Are your shoes still in decent condition despite being worn? If so, they may be candidates for recycling or donation. Shoes with irreparable damage or excessive wear may not be suitable.
  4. Metal Parts: Check for metal components in your shoes, like eyelets, zippers, or support structures. Some recycling programs can handle shoes with metal parts, while others may require you to remove these components and send them to specialized metal recycling programs. Or, you can keep these fixtures handy for future use in other clothing items when the need arises, reducing waste and maximizing resource efficiency.

How Do You Recycle Shoes? 4 Ways to Recycle & Dispose of Shoes Responsibly

Wondering about what to do with a pair of shoes that have seen better days instead of dumping them in the trash? Well, the good news is, there are several fantastic initiatives designed to give new life and a second chance to those pairs of shoes you can no longer sport. 

However, it's essential to understand that when it comes to shoes, the traditional recycling concept of transforming items back into raw materials for reuse doesn't quite apply – it's not as straightforward as tossing them into your regular recycling bin.

Instead, it's best to seek out charitable organizations or specialized initiatives dedicated to recycling shoes or passing them on to those in need.

1. Curbside Recycling Programs for Shoes

Some areas offer curbside recycling for shoes, where they are collected alongside other recyclables. Check with your local recycling company for more details.

2. Donate When Possible: Shoe Donation Centers and Special Programs

Donating gently worn shoes to organizations that help those in need is another eco-friendly option. Many nonprofits accept different types of donations, including collecting and distributing donated shoes to individuals in need, extending the life of your footwear. If your shoes still have some miles left in them, give them a good spruce-up before sending them off to donation bins to make it simpler for organizations to find them a new home.

For example, Goodwill stands as a top choice for Americans looking to declutter and make a positive impact. They graciously accept a wide array of items, including donated shoes, as long as they are in decent shape. Another avenue to explore is Soles4Souls, a Nashville-based charitable organization. 

They've managed to provide over 53 million pairs of shoes to individuals in need during their two decades of work and welcome all sorts of shoes, even those missing their pair. However, it's important to ensure your shoes are either new or gently worn and free from any unsightly holes. All in all, in wearable condition.

3. Reach Out to Shoe Manufacturers

Certain shoe brands break down old shoes into their component parts and repurpose them into materials that can be used for creating athletic surfaces and flooring. Reach out to inquire about different shoe manufacturers' recycling policies and programs. Some brands have dedicated initiatives and shoe recycling programs you can use as an alternative to charity shops.

For example, the Nike Grind program accepts old athletic sneakers from all brands and transforms them into sports surfaces and new shoes. They have gone the extra mile to simplify the shoe recycling process by placing convenient drop boxes in their retail outlets. However, types of footwear such as sandals, formal shoes, boots, or any footwear with metal components won't make the cut. 

4. Sneaker Drive Fundraisers

You can organize or participate in shoe drive fundraisers to collect old shoes for reuse or recycling. For example, Got Sneakers is a sneaker recycling enterprise with a clear mission: to dispatch shoes to corners of the world where footwear remains a precious commodity.

They've devised an ingenious plan involving sneaker drive fundraisers, rewarding individuals and groups for each shoe they gather in cash. Although their preference is for gently worn shoes, even the ones beyond salvation find a new purpose through recycling in their hands.

Adult male carrying a box of used shoes being donated

Finding Sustainable Alternatives to Traditional Shoes

If you're committed to reducing your environmental footprint, consider exploring sustainable shoe alternatives. Look for brands that craft shoes and sneakers from organic cotton, hemp, or other natural, sustainable materials. Athletic shoe manufacturers, in particular, are increasingly using recycled and eco-friendly materials in their products.

In the realm of work and safety boots, Timberland PRO footwear has been setting the standard for sustainability for nearly three decades. They offer work boot models crafted from leather sourced from farms employing regenerative farming techniques and incorporating a minimum of 50% recycled polyester. Some other brands are also actively committed to eco-friendly and sustainable practices, such as:

So, the next time you're on the hunt for a new pair, keep an eye out for details on the shoebox or the shoes themselves to determine their recyclability. This little detective work will help you discern whether your future footwear can be sent back to the manufacturer for a recycling makeover or if it's best to pass them on when they've served their purpose.

So, Can You Recycle Shoes? Yes, and You Should!

The question, "Can you recycle shoes?" has a resounding yes! Recycling your old or unwanted shoes not only helps the environment but also supports a more sustainable future for the footwear industry. Whether you opt for specialized programs, donations, or sustainable alternatives, each step you take brings us closer to a world where every pair of shoes gets a second chance.

So, the next time you're about to toss those old shoes to the curb, remember that recycling is a step in the right direction for a greener, more eco-conscious world. Each pair of shoes has a story to tell, and their recycling journey might just be the most exciting chapter yet!

And when you're ready for a fresh pair of high-quality work or outdoor boots that will last for years to come, Overlook Boots has got you covered. Check out our new fall 2023 collections and step into the future with durable footwear that's as eco-friendly as it is comfortable and stylish.