With increasing conversations about how people can reduce their environmental impact, consumers need more options than ever to reduce their carbon footprint. Recycling clothes is one path, but shoes seem more challenging to recycle correctly. Below are ideas to help you start recycling your shoes
Donate Them to a Thrift Store
Often, the shoes we stop wearing are still in good condition, even if they’re a little worn. Thrift stores let you get rid of your old shoes at no cost, and they can get in the hands of someone who could find great joy in them.
It would be best to find a thrift store that uses their proceeds for a good cause so you can maximize the social benefit of donating your shoes. Find stores in your area fitting that description, like stores that help people find jobs or aid the homeless. Try to give local instead of big chains if you can, but find a good store nonetheless.
Go to a Clothing Swap
Some cities host clothing swaps, in which people bring their old clothes and swap them for someone else’s at no cost. These types of exchanges are usually social events in which dozens of people bring their old stuff in need of a new home, often accompanied by live music, food, and fun activities for children.
You can bring your old shoes and swap them for a denim jacket for someone else’s clothes or another item altogether. An artist might need shoes for material for an art project, so you never know how your old shoes could make someone else’s day.
Just keep an open mind, but also be prepared to return home with your old shoes. Depending on what you have, some people might browse through your stuff but not pick your shoes. In such cases, you’ll have to find other areas to recycle your shoes.
Drop Them Off at a Textile Recycling Place
On the side of the road or near shopping centers, you’ll see large bins that say “Clothes and shoe recycling drop-off.” You can drop off your old, broken shoes in one of those bins and a company will take them to be recycled for new material.
The companies vary in their missions; usually, the company sorts through the clothes to see what can be donated to second-hand stores and take the rest to be shredded. The material is used for rags, recycled into other fabrics, or used to make insulation.
Whatever they do with your clothes, they’re most likely not throwing them in the landfill, so you can toss your old shoes in the bin and know that they’ll be repurposed in some useful way.
Ship Them Back to the Company
Some major shoe companies, such as Nike, will take your old shoes and recycle them for you. Nike will take your old basketball shoes that are ripped from years of abuse and put them through the Nike Grind, where the materials of your donated shoes will be recycled into new shoe products or materials.
Nike accepts any brand of shoe, though they don’t accept sandals, boots, dress shoes, or shoes with metal in them.
You’ll most likely have to pay for shipping as well. If you’re worried about your carbon footprint, The environmental costs of shipping might make you uneasy, but at least you’re preventing your shoes from entering a landfill.
You’d be surprised at what can be composted. Shoes made from all-natural plant materials can be composted with ease.
If you have your compost pile in the backyard, you can throw your shoes into the mix. It would be best to understand the basics of composting to achieve the best results. The shoes will most likely be carbon-based, as plants are made from carbon. You’ll have to find lots of nitrogen-rich materials, like coffee grounds and tea, to balance out the carbon in the shoes.
If you don’t personally compost, check if there are organizations in your area that recycles organic waste in your community. Some might take biodegradable shoes, but depending on the size of their operations, they might not be able to recycle shoes.
If nothing else, you could bury your all-natural, plant-based shoes in your backyard and let nature run its course. As long as you’re sure there’s nothing inorganic in the shoe, they should eventually break down in the soil. If you decide to bury your plant-based shoes, choose an area that’s not too dry and gets plenty of rain or water runoff.
How to Recycle Shoes at Home
Use DIY Tips and Tricks to Repair Your Shoes
When your shoes show signs of wear, you can find easy fixes to make them look like the day you bought them.
Holes can occur for a variety of reasons. Perhaps you nicked your foot on something sharp and tore open a gap. Maybe your feet are too wide for the shoe, and your toes poked a hole through after constant use.
Whatever the case is, fixing a hole in shoes is easy to do. If it’s a mesh shoe, such as a Nike walking shoe, you can cut out a square piece of similarly sized fabric and hot glue it to the inside of the shoe.
Then, when the hole is covered, apply a polish that matches the hole of the shoe to cover the fabric poking through the hole. You can watch a video of that process here.
Canvas. Canvas shoes can be fixed with Shoe Goo or other glues designed for porous materials. With the flexibility of the canvas and the constant movement from walking, though, it’s likely you’ll have to make multiple repair attempts to keep the hole closed. This is especially true if the canvas has separated from the sole of the shoe.
If the hole is in the canvas itself, such as if you accidentally cut the cloth apart, you can close the hole with a needle and thread. Find thread that matches the color canvas from your shoe and sew it shut. You might have to apply glue over the thread to keep it from coming loose, but you’ll at least the hole is likely to stay closed longer.
Leather. For leather, one suitable repair method is to take polymorph pellets and pour hot water on them. Once soft, mold the pellets with your fingers and apply it over the hole, sculpting it both inside and outside the shoe. Wait for it to harden — you’ll know it’s done when it turns white.
Once that’s done, you’ll need to apply some glue to the edges of the plastic to make a waterproof seal. A variety of adhesives suffice, such as super glue, Gorilla glue, even contact cement will work. Let the glue dry, sharpie over the plastic and glue if the leather is black, then apply shoe polish over all the leather.
When done, you’ll barely notice that there was a hole in the shoe. You can watch a video on how to repair a hole in leather shoes here.
Tearing Along the Seam
You’ve seen this happen in school. There’s always one boy who wore his shoes to their bitter end, with the toe covering coming off and flapping whenever he walks. It looks like he encased his feet in an alligator, taking a bite every time he walks.
Fixing tears along the seam are a little trickier than fixing holes. Tears along the seams will grow and worsen due to the mechanics of walking — your foot will put pressure on the top fabric of the shoe with each step, worsening the overall tear and increasing the gaping whole incurred from the once small tear.
To fix a tear along the seam in your shoes, you’ll need an adhesive of some sort. Shoe Goo, super glue, or Gorilla Glue would work. Glue the sole to the bottom of the sole and apply pressure, either through a clamp or by putting a heavy object on top of the shoe. Once the shoes dry, walk around in them tentatively to see if you’ll need to reglue the shoes.
Some shoes, such as Tom’s, could be sewn back together. Non-rubber and soft-soled shoes would lend themselves most straightforward to this endeavor. Take a heavy-duty needle and thread and lace the canvas back to the shoes.
The sewing option is stronger than glue alone. Although, if you have the materials, feel free to combine both glue and sewing to make the strongest repair you can.
Broken heels can ruin even the best nights out. If the heel has come off your shoe, be sure to keep it, as you’ll need it in the repair process.
Get some strong adhesive, such as Shoe Goo, super glue, or Gorilla Glue, and put the heel back in place. If your heel got damaged in the process, say someone stepped on it before you had the chance to pick it back up, you should consider applying a piece of leather over the damaged heel and gluing it on to repair the heel.
Some sneakers, like Chuck Taylors and Vans, lose their vibrant colors after wearing them for a long period. The canvas material shows scuffs, stray marks, and stains that look unsightly.
You can give your shoes a new life by painting over them. Show your creative side by painting a design on them, such as the ones shown here. Some people paint galaxies on their shoes. Others opt for their favorite TV show character.
Whatever you choose, painting shoes that are otherwise intact give them a fresh new look. However, they become significantly less formal when you do so, erring on the side of casual DIY.
If painting seems like too much of a hassle, you can easily dye your shoes to make them look brand-new. The good-quality dye will remove the scuffs and hide the cosmetic imperfections of daily wear that afflict most shoes.
How to Dye Shoes
The first thing you must do is gather your materials — the dye of your choice, your shoes, a bin you don’t mind staining to oblivion, and warm water.
Look over your shoes and make sure there are no visible stains on them. After glancing at your shoes over, wash the whole shoe with soap and warm water to remove any invisible blemishes that could make the dyeing process worse.
Next, set up your dyeing station. You could set it up outside in a grassy area or on a black top, or set down a plastic tarp to ensure nothing you don’t want stained gets stained. Be sure to grab some latex gloves if you want to avoid staining your skin as well, and a towel nearby to clean up any messes quickly.
If possible, remove the inner sole of your shoe as well as the shoelaces, setting them aside. Next, you most likely don’t want to dye the sole of the shoe the color you hope to stain the fabric; you want the rubber to remain unscathed in the dying process. If you don’t have petroleum jelly on-hand, you could cover the soles in masking tape or duct tape.
Coat the sole and sides liberally with petroleum jelly or tape to protect them from permanent damage. However, avoid using Vaseline on suede or leather, as the petroleum jelly could damage those materials.
Load a plastic container, stainless steel sink, or some other non-porous basin with a few gallons of hot water — any volume plentiful enough for the shoes to completely submerge the shoes. The water should be warm but not boiling — around 140º Fahrenheit. For added dyeing efficiency, add one teaspoon of dish detergent.
Add the necessary amount of shoe dye to the warm water. The instructions on the dye’s package should describe the proper amount, so be sure to measure the quantity accurately to avoid dying your shoes too dark or too light of a color. However, if you purposely want a dark or bold color, you could add more of the instructed amount.
Once you’ve poured the dye into the water, mix the dye throughout thoroughly. You could use this with a long utensil, such as a metal spoon, or with your gloved hand. If you feel the color is too dark, pour in some more water. If too light, add more dye.
Don’t drop your shoes in dry — wet them first with warm water. Once moistened, you can place them into the dying vat. The longer you leave the shoes in there, the darker and bolder the color will be. Remove after two minutes for a dip-dye look or 10-15 minutes if you want profound, factory-dyed results.
Once you’ve found the dye color you want, rinse the shoes under cold water. Be sure to try to get all the dye out, ensuring all the tape and petroleum jelly are still on the soles, as you can still dye your soles in this process. Continue rinsing until the water runs clear.
From there, all that’s left is to wash the shoes in your washing machine. Use warm water with mild detergent. The dye should have stayed in place, but if the stain came out, you’d have to repeat the dyeing process. Otherwise, let the shoes air dry, and you’re good to go.
Use Shoes as Garden Pots
If you can’t walk in your old shoes anymore, use the shoes as a vessel for a new form of life. You can fill the soles of the shoes with dirt, loosen the tongue, and plant a few seeds. You can watch a micro-garden grow from where you once stood.
Shoes are excellent for growing plants. The hard rubber sole keeps moisture from trickling out toward the bottom, but the sides of the shoes allow aeration of the soil to keep the plant fresh and alive. Besides, shoes are small and much lighter than a clay pot, and you can avoid using a plastic container if you want to avoid using plastic.
For a quirky look with practical usage, use your old shoes to grow plants. Once the plants outgrow the shoes, you can put the plant in a pot and use the shoes for another seed.
Dog Chew Toy
Puppies love chewing up sneakers, so why not give your puppy what it wants and let it tear up your old sneakers for you. While the old shoes can be fun for your dog, you’ll have to make clear distinctions as to which shoes your dog can chew and which they shouldn’t, as they shouldn’t think it’s okay to tear up all shoes.
There are lots of paths your old shoes can walk once they reach their end of life. Whether it’s donating them to a thrift store, planting a seed in them, dying them a new color, or letting your dog tear them up, there’s something new for an old pair of shoes to do. Don’t overlook any of these options when deciding where to take your shoes next.
How to Recycle Sneakers / Running Shoes
Running shoes are not biodegradable and usually end up in landfills. The life of a running shoe is about 750 miles. Some people turn them into planters or other home decor items, or write messages with a permanent marker across the soles — but there are many more options for reusing these important symbols of fitness.
1) Check if your local recycling center accepts running shoes. If so, take off the laces and insoles before you hand them over.
2) Call your local animal shelter and offer to donate old running shoes that you’ve replaced with new ones (remember: no shoelaces). Dogs like tennis balls covered in old running shoes as fetch toys.
3) If you’re a dog owner, consider taking your old running shoes to the local park and throwing them into the bushes. When dogs who live in urban settings go outside to do their business, they often bring rubber objects back home with them.
They know this is acceptable behavior because they always pick up other people’s discarded gum or pieces of plastic bag that they find on the street – sometimes by playing keep-away with your pet dog!
By throwing your old shoe away at the park instead [of your own home], you’re encouraging these animals to learn new habits because disposing of refuse properly isn’t as easy as it should be for some humans these days. Just make sure, it’s a dog park or something. You wouldn’t want to just litter your shoes in a regular park hoping some dogs find them.
4) If you are a pet owner who is getting rid of your dog, consider buying new running shoes for yourself and letting your old ones be buried with the dog. This gesture is similar to keeping a piece of wood from a beloved tree that has fallen down, or taking an old shirt from an ex-lover when he or she moves on.
5) Reuse them in place of cardboard egg cartons whenever you need to store yarns or other fibers to prevent tangling. These shoes make great containers because they have holes in the bottom so they can drain if they get wet.
6) Runners can take an old pair of running shoes and turn them into sandals. Use some Velcro straps to keep the shoe on your feet and save yourself from having to tie or untie knots each time you want to wear those shoes. These may be a bit heavy for summer activities, but they’ll last season after season and will never get thrown out at the end of the year.
7) If you have some old running shoes that are just too torn up to be considered footwear anymore, try cutting them open so you can use the cloth and rubber from the soles for many other projects around your home.
You can repurpose these materials in anything from a deck of cards case to an improvised cooler to transport wine or beer (just wrap some fabric tight around the insides of both shoes, cut holes in the bottoms and tie strings through each hole with a knot on either side). They also make great water floatation devices for little kids playing on hot summer days.
8) If you have some extra room in your backyard, consider planting vegetables or other crops on top of old running shoes buried deep in the ground. Anything root-based will do really well.
9) Students and teachers can use old running shoes for their puppet shows – either by cutting them into pieces or stuffing an existing pair with paper mache. Or you can stick a head made of clay inside the shoe, maybe some pipe cleaners for arms and legs, add a smiley face and call it art!
10) Make Halloween costumes out of old running shoes. Cut open an old pair by the toe, sew in some sackcloth and turn them into a scarecrow. Cut along the frown on the front of your shoe to make a sad face monster costume. Remember that these shoes will probably be quite heavy because they are filled with rubber and cloth, so you may have to add some more stuffing material or reduce their size before fitting them onto your body.
11) If you’re running out of storage space in your house, consider lining shelves and drawers inside cabinets with the insoles from old running shoes. They keep items from moving around during transportation or when the drawer tries to close by itself and also help keep things organized as well!
12) Keep roaches away from areas where food is prepared by burying an old pair of running shoes in a corner or under your kitchen sink. The smell will keep them away and anyone who steps on these shoes will make enough noise to scare other roaches off as well.
13) Get creative! Make some plush animal toys out of old running shoe bottoms by sewing up one side.