Know this first: Even if you think you've got a pair of kicks that you've completely worn in, there are some real life Gepettos out there who may be able to work a miracle. However, when you finally get to the point that you're certain it's time to call it splits, there are two things you can do to recycle shoes that don't involve tossing them in the trash or creating a shoe graveyard in your hall closet.
Why should you recycle shoes?
While some shoes are meant to be "forever" investments—Balenciaga sneakers, for example—others are only meant to be temporary flings. When you wear a pair of shoes for too long, they can become overly broken in and lose their support. This is especially important as it relates to sneakers, which podiatrists say you should be swapping your every six months to ensure they're doing their job correctly and keeping you safe and injury-free in your workouts. This, in effect, creates a lot of shoe waste. According to the United States Department of the Interior, Americans throw away over 300 million pairs of shoes per year, which can take between 30 and 40 years to decompose.
In addition to reducing your carbon footprint and buying fewer, better pairs (shoutout for doing everything we possibly can to be more sustainable, y'all), choosing to recycle shoes can make a huge impact on the life of an individual. Donating via a company like Soles for Souls, which brings shoes to people in the developing world, can make it possible for children to walk to school without having to trek over glass and other dangerous terrain in bare feet. There are reportedly 300 million people living in extreme poverty who don't have access to shoes, so though you may need to upgrade your old marathoning Asics, people around the world can put them to good use.
What are the best places to recycle shoes?
When it's time to say goodbye to your shoes, there are a few things you can do with them.
Sell: If your shoes have been well-loved and you just don't love them any more, you can always try to trade them in for cash. Sites like Ebay and Poshmark (or The Real Real if ya fancy) make it easy to sell shoes online to a loving new home. As someone who has tried to do this and failed many, many times, though, keep in mind that they need to be in very good condition for you to be able to make any money off of them. Nobody wants those filthy Stan Smiths with a missing laces, Karen.
Donate: If your shoes dead to you, but not embarrassing looking (you know what I mean by this), you can take them to a second-hand store for someone else to love. A few easy places to do it? The Salvation Army, Goodwill, and One World Running, which have locations across the country, and the aforementioned Soles for Souls, which makes it so easy to ship your shoes to their warehouse that there's pretty much no excuse not to.
Recycle: When your shoes just don't have any right calling themselves shoes anymore, their raw materials can still find a new purpose—especially sneakers. Certain sneaker companies have developed recycling initiatives that use the materials from your old tennis shoes into brand spankin' new ones. You can bring your used sneakers back to Adidas and Asics for upcycling into the next collection. Through their "Remix" program, Native Shoes turns the recycled materials from its shoes into playgrounds, and Nike does all kinds of things with shoes that have been recycled through its "Reuse a Shoe" initiative. If you're in New York, you can drop old shoes into a Wearable Collections donation box to be turned into recycled textiles.
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