A staggering 22 billion pairs of shoes, 90% of the footwear produced annually, are sent to landfill every year worldwide. Staying away from fast fashion will help to minimize your consumption, but your shoes will eventually wear out so you need to know how to recycle shoes.
Can you recycle shoes?
So the question is – how to recycle old shoes? Can shoes even be recycled?
The anwer is yes, you can recycle shoes, but it is somewhat difficult to do so. As a general rule, items made from a mix of materials are more tricky to recycle, because the different components first need to be separated out.
Furthermore, the higher the value of the materials an item is made from, the more profitable it is for recycling centers to process it, even if it’s difficult to do so. That’s why many municipal recycling programs will take items like cardboard boxes but not pillows or carpet.
However, sandals, sneakers, and boots are a complex mix of cheap materials like plastics, rubber, and different kinds of textiles. Even leather is not valuable enough to make it worth the effort of salvaging it from the other materials it is attached to.
Therefore, as a general rule, municipalities don’t take footwear and clothing as part of their curbside recycling programs, and you’ll struggle to find a recycling center that will accept shoes.
However, you can recycle your old shoes through manufacturers and mail-in programs. There are also other ways to responsibly dispose of your old shoes, such as donating or upcycling them.
How to recycle old shoes
Although shoes are definitely at the harder end of the scale when it comes to recycling, with a little bit of effort you can find an organization that will take your unwanted footwear off your hands, salvage the materials, and have them made into new products.
Through shoe brands
There are a number of brands that run shoe recycling programs. For example, Nike runs a program that not only recycles old, used shoes but also defective models straight from the factory and turns them into industrial materials used to make products like turf fields and playground equipment.
All you need to do is drop off your old sneakers at a participating retail outlet – use the program’s finder tool to find a location near you.
Just be aware that in many cases, the brand will only accept certain types of shoes through their recycling program. For example, Nike will only take athletic shoes and shoe manufacturers like Teva and Thousand Fell run recycling programs that only accept shoes from their own brand.
Through a recycling program
There are also various mail-in recycling programs that help consumers dispose of their old shoes. TerraCycle is a company that recycles many hard-to-recycle items, such as shoes.
You can order a footwear zero waste box through the company and fill it with as many shoes as you can. However, it should be noted that this service comes at a not insubstantial cost.
Here’s how to recycle your old footwear through TerraCycle:
- Go through your closet and sort your shoes into three categories: those you want to keep, those you want to dispose of and are in good condition, and those to get rid of that are heavily used or unwearable. You can give away any that are only gently used and still wearable, and the others will need to be recycled.
- Take TerraCycle’s online quiz to work out the type and size Zero Waste Box you’ll need to send in your shoes. If you have other accessories and clothing that you also want to recycle, you may be able to send this in the same box – check the rules listed on their site.
- After you’ve chosen the right one, place an order via TerraCycle’s website and pay for the box. They’ll then send it to you along with a prepaid return label.
- Fill the box, seal, and send it back to TerraCycle!
TerraCycle will then pull apart your items, separate out the different materials, and send each off for recycling. For example, they will turn natural fiber textiles into insulation, and melt plastics down into pellets to make new products.
American Textile Recycling Service also takes used clothing and footwear in any condition for recycling. Check their website to see if they have a drop-off bin near you.
How to recycle old shoes: other ways to dispose of them responsibly
With recycling old shoes being reasonably difficult and costly, it’s worth considering other ways to dispose of them responsibly. Here are some other things you can do with your unwearable or unwanted footwear to keep it out of landfill.
Repair your shoes
In today’s disposable society, we too often throw away our household items as soon as they break or start to wear out, whether it’s a toaster or a pair of sneakers. However, in many cases, you can give your old shoes new life by repairing them.
Did you know that a quality pair of leather shoes can be resoled up to 10 times? If the bottom of your shoe has split open, find a local shoe repairer and have new soles put in, or install new heels once they come loose or get scuffed.
This is a double win for the environment: not only are you minimizing the amount of waste you produce, but you’ll also avoid taking more of the earth’s precious resources to make new shoes. Not to mention this small investment will save you from spending much more on a new pair of shoes!
Donate your shoes
Typically, you can only donate gently used shoes that are in good condition. As a general rule, if they’re not in good enough condition that you would wear them, they’re not fit to donate.
You can donate your used footwear to charity shops in your area such as Goodwill or the Salvation Army. These non-profits typically take donations via collection bins, or you may be able to drop them off directly at one of their stores.
Here are some other options for donating your old shoes:
- Check out Freecycle, a site that allows individuals to find a home for their unwanted stuff, including shoes and accessories.
- If you live in Colorado, you can also donate your shoes to Runners Roost by dropping them off at any of their locations. This program accepts old footwear in any condition. They give shoes that are in good condition to veterans and homeless people, and recycle more worn items into tracks and playground equipment.
- Another worthy organization that takes used footwear is Got Sneakers. This non-profit distributes shoes to people in need all over the world. They even pay individuals and community groups for the shoes they collect. While Got Sneakers is mostly looking for gently used shoes in good condition, they’ll also send unusable footwear off for recycling.
- When you buy a new pair of Asics, their Give Back Box program lets you fill the shipping box with your gently used shoes and return to them. Asics supplies a pre-paid shipping label so all you need to do is drop the box off at their named carrier and the company will donate your shoes to the needy.
- Soles4Souls will give used shoes and clothing in good condition to needy communities in the USA for disaster relief, as well as to people in developing countries who can then sell the items to generate income.
- One World Running is a charity that collects donations of athletic shoes, which they give to military recruits who can’t afford to buy new running shoes.
- Dress for Success gives women’s dress shoes, flats, boots, and loafers and gives them to women in need across the globe. They have affiliate locations throughout the USA as well as a handful overseas where you can drop off your donations.
- If you live in New York you can donate your old shoes, as well as all kinds of clothing and accessories to Wearable Collections. Take your items to one of their drop-off points throughout the city, and they’ll send items in good condition to second-hand markets, while the rest will be recycled into carpet padding, mattress stuffing, or insulation.
Sell your old or unwanted shoes
If you have old shoes in good condition you want to get rid of, another option is to sell them. With the growing popularity of retro fashion, there is a strong market these days for used footwear, especially statement, and brand-name pieces.
If you’re lucky enough to have a vintage pair of Jimmy Choos or Manolos, you could make quite a bit of money selling them! Find a vintage clothing or accessory store in your area and see if they want to buy your old footwear.
Alternatively, you can sell shoes online on sites such as:
The advantage of using this service is that they’ll do they work of selling for you. Just send them your items, and they’ll clean and repair them if necessary before reselling them. However, they work primarily with certain brands, so may or may not accept your old shoes depending on the manufacturer.
Upcycle shoes into DIY projects
If your old shoes are not in good enough condition to be donated or sold, you can get crafty and use them as raw materials for DIY projects.
Here are just some of the ways you can upcycle old shoes:
- Turn them into unique planters for your herbs or succulents, such as these ones or make a wall planter from old flip flops.
- Decorate them and stuff them with cosmetics and turn them into a makeup organizer – stilettos are perfect for this, as you can use the heel to hang your organizer over a drawer handle or similar.
- Similarly, you use your old shoes, particularly boots, as organizers for anything from pens to kitchen utensils.
- Turn them into a hanging jewelry rack – see this tutorial to learn how.
- Add some stones for some extra weight and turn them into bookends.
- Give your old shoes a creative makeover – check out this video for ideas.
Still have doubts about when and how you can recycle old shoes? Check out the answers to some commonly asked questions on the topic below.
Can you recycle shoes curbside?
Although shoes can be recycled, you’re unlikely to be able to recycle them through your local curbside program. Check with your local sanitation department if they accept this kind of item, and if so what you need to do to arrange for them to be recycled.
Otherwise, order a mail-in box through a company like TerraCycle, or see if the American Textile Recycling Service has a drop off point in your area.
Can all shoes be recycled?
Virtually any type of footwear can be recycled, as well as clothing and accessories for that matter. However, it will depend on the type and brand of shoes you have.
You can recycle any kind of shoes through a mail-in program like TerraCycle, though this does come at a cost.
While recycling old shoes isn’t easy, it’s possible
Buying quality shoes that last a long time before they wear out will go a long way to avoiding you having to recycle your shoes too often. Good-quality footwear can also be repaired multiple times to keep it in use.
However, nothing lasts forever and eventually you’ll need to dispose of them, or you may end up with shoes that you no longer want or need. In this case, you can donate shoes that are in good condition, upcycle them into creative DIY projects, or recycle them through a program like TerraCycle.
If you’ve enjoyed this guide to how to recycle shoes go ahead and share it with your eco-conscious friends and family members!