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Last Updated on February 24, 2023 by Diane Hoffmaster
If you are looking at your closet and wondering what to do with old shoes, you aren't alone. Americans are notorious for their love of shoes, buying an average of seven pairs per year and recycling less than 5%.
It's easy to understand why; that first moment when you slip on a well-worn pair is almost magical. But before long your beloved boots become another tired addition to the pile taking up space in the closet - or worse - thrown out into landfills where they take decades to decompose.
Instead, of sending shoes to the landfill, consider giving them new life! By donating those still wearable shoes (or maybe even recycling or repurposing them!) we can reduce waste while redefining what it means to be fashionable AND eco-friendly.
Should you throw old shoes away?
Old shoes used to be a one-way ticket straight into landfills, clogging up the planet with materials like leather and rubber that could take years to break down. But by understanding your options for reuse and responsible recycling, you can help keep our environment cleaner.
How does shoe waste impact the environment?
The environmental impact of shoe waste is immense. Leather takes years to decompose in a landfill, rubber soles contain chemicals that can leach into the ground, and synthetic materials like plastic are not biodegradable.
All of these elements eventually end up in our oceans and landfills, contaminating what should be beautiful ecosystems and posing serious health risks to local wildlife and communities.
What happens to shoes when they are thrown away?
Do shoes go to the landfill when you toss them away? Yes. And according to the U.S. Department of the Interior, Americans throw away at least 300 million pairs of shoes each year. That is a whole lot of shoes.
And there is no magical place where they just disappear, either. When you toss those old shoes in your trash can, they end up in landfills. How long do shoes stay in the landfill? Longer than you would imagine. They can take 30 to 40 years to decompose.
So, if you don't want your kid's generation dealing with a planet filled with millions of old shoes, start figuring out what to do with old shoes instead of throwing them away.
Where Could You Donate Your Old Shoes?
If you have gently worn shoes that still have some life in them, try finding a new home for them instead of throwing your worn footwear away. Here are a few ways to rehome shoes you don't want to wear anymore.
Sell them online
The first option is to sell your old shoes online. You can try sites like eBay, Poshmark, and Grailed to list your gently used pairs and find a new owner who will give them the life they deserve. Selling them will work for just about all footwear, from running shoes to ski boots and everything in between.
Swap With Friends or Family
You could also try swapping shoes with friends and family. Take them to your next party or get-together, show off what you have, and see what else is out there. You may find a few new pairs that you love even more than the ones you brought!
You could even host a shoe swap specifically to exchange gently used shoes with people who love shoes. Bring your flip-flops and go home with a new pair of dress shoes. Or, at least, new to YOU. Put up a flier in your neighborhood advertising a kid's shoe drive. It's a great way to save money and an eco-friendly way to rehome your shoes.
Is it worth donating old shoes?
Yes, donating old shoes is definitely worth it! Many charities and organizations take gently used footwear that can still be worn. This includes running shoes, sandals, boots, heels, and more. Find a local charity or organization in need of reusable shoes and give what you can.
You'll not only be helping those in need of shoes have access to a commodity that is too often taken for granted, but you'll also be helping the planet. You'll be diverting those shoes from landfills and giving them a second life while decreasing your own carbon footprint. So, call up your local thrift store and see if you can donate shoes to them.
What to do with shoes that are too old to donate?
You may have some shoes that are too worn out to donate or give away. Don't worry, there are still better options than throwing them in the trash can.
If your shoes are too beat up to be worn again, look for a Nike store. They have a great program called Nike Grind. Nike Grind is a collection of recycled materials developed by Nike that is composed of pre-consumer manufacturing scraps, recycled post-consumer shoes from the Reuse-A-Shoe program, and unsellable footwear.
The purpose of this program is to eliminate waste and to start turning shoes into more sustainable products. And they don't just take Nike shoes either. Worn-out shoes of all sorts are accepted at Nike's Reuse a Shoe program. So, next time you have an old pair of athletic sneakers, you can turn shoes into something that can be reused as a playground surface instead of creating landfill trash.
Mend / Repair Old Shoes
I bet you have at least one pair of old shoes that fits just fine but has something broken on it. Boots with a broken heel, dress shoes with the sole falling off, sneakers that are scuffed up but still perfectly good shoes.
There is no reason to throw away these old shoes! Do some research and find someone who can repair old shoes for you. My husband got a pair of cowboy boots resoled and they have lasted for years ever since. Shoe repair places can fix your high heels and clean your athletic shoes so you can get a few more miles out of them.
Dye your scuffed-up shoes
Do you have a pair of shoes that are scuffed up from wear and tear? Don't toss them in the trash! Instead, why not try giving them a new life with some fabric dye. There is no need to buy new shoes when you can just turn what you already own into something fresh and new again.
You'll be amazed at what a difference dyeing your shoes can make. It's an easy and fun way to give your old footwear a second chance and it's a great way to save money too!
If you have dress shoes, invest in a shoe polish kit. Polishing dress shoes really gives them new life. You may just need some boot-fix glue and a little patience. Mending will save significant money over time.
When should you throw away a pair of shoes?
No matter what you do, sometimes a pair of shoes just isn't meant to last. If the sole is completely worn out and irreparable, if the material itself is ripped or torn beyond repair, or if your shoes are making your feet hurt due to bad support, then it's probably time for them to go.
It can be hard to part with what was once your favorite shoes, but sometimes it has to be done.
The key is to take good care of what you have. Invest in quality footwear and shoe care products, donate what you can, repair what you can't donate, dye what's scuffed up, and throw away what can't be salvaged.
Doing what you can to extend the life of your shoes will not only help reduce waste but will also save you money in the long run.
One important thing to remember is that you CAN have too many shoes. Do you really need more than seven pairs of shoes? I bet you don't. Stop buying them and you can stop throwing them away.
How long should a pair of shoes last?
A good pair of shoes should last you at least a year, if not more. Quality shoes with natural leather soles and uppers will typically last longer than cheaper synthetic materials. In addition, proper shoe care can also make a big difference in terms of durability.
Keep your shoes dry, clean them regularly, and replace the insoles if necessary. Keep track of the miles you run in your running shoes so you know when it is time to retire them as yard shoes.
Take care of what you have and don't be afraid to pass it on when you're done. But never let a good pair of shoes go to waste in a landfill. There are always options for what to do with old shoes instead of just throwing them away.
How to recycle old shoes
I mentioned the Nike Reuse a Shoe program above for beat-up shoes that have no life left in them. There are also many other footwear recycling programs as well. But, recycling unwanted shoes isn't as easy as tossing them in the blue bin at the curb.
Why are shoes so hard to recycle?
Recycling shoes is hard because they are made up of many different materials. For example, the upper part is usually made of fabric and other synthetic materials while the soles are usually made of rubber or plastic. To recycle shoes properly, each material needs to be separated and recycled in different ways.
How to Recycle Old Shoes: Running Shoes, Sneakers, Boots, Heels
The good news is that there are more companies taking on shoe recycling projects. This can help reduce what goes into landfills and give your old shoes a second chance at life. Here are a few that might take your shoe donation.
Terracycle zero waste box: Check out Terracycle.com for information on this great program.
UsAgain donation bines: Look for an UsAgain drop-off location near you. They accept shoes and also offer clothes recycling. They have a handy search feature on their website to search for drop off locations by state.
Check to see if your local recycling center takes them: While most local municipal garbage companies will not take old shoes in your recycling bin, call them to check just in case. They may also be able to give you a drop off location for donation bins that WILL take your old shoes.
How to Reuse Old Shoes
When it comes to disposing of your old shoes get creative. Head to the craft store and turn your gently worn old shoe into something fresh and new. Here are a few ideas to inspire you:
Make a shoe planter
If you are wondering what to do with old shoes, turn one of them into a garden planter. This is a great way to display all of your favorite plants. It's an especially good way to use old rubber boots. Paint them bright colors and nail them on a wooden fence. Then, fill it with soil and plants.
Make a high heel coat rack
If you have several pairs of high heels and a bit of wood, you can turn those heels into a convenient place to hang everything from a light sweater to the dog's leash. Check
Build a shoe birdhouse for your yard
If you want to make something that's a bit more decorative? Use an old shoe as the base for a birdhouse and decorate it with paints and embellishments. It can be hung from a tree or fence in your yard, and you'll have some feathered visitors in no time.
What are other ways to use old shoes?
From pin cushions made out of baby shoes to old sneakers made into an herb garden, there are lots of creative ways to use an old pair of shoes. Head to Pinterest and get crafty before tossing those old kicks in the trash.
Some Final Thoughts
Fast fashion is killing our planet. We buy too many clothes and shoes, then ship things we don't want to develop countries or toss them in the trash without a second thought.
Sure, you can turn that old shoe into soundproofing materials or carpet padding but you still have a product loaded with toxic chemicals.
Stop buying so much stuff. Shop in a responsible manner. Look for natural materials. Buy less. You don't need 47 pairs of new shoes in your closet to choose from. Ask yourself if last year's flip-flops will work for a few more years. (if you love flip-flops, check out my post on how to keep your feet flip-flop-ready for summer!)
Rethink what you buy and don't expect the Nike stores to solve this planet's shoe crisis. Check out my posts about how to find the best athletic shoe or learn which hiking boots to wear on your next camping trip. Make each purchase count.
Diane is a professional blogger and nationally certified pharmacy technician at Good Pill Pharmacy. She has two college aged kids, one husband and more pets than she will admit to. She earned her BS in Microbiology at the University of New Hampshire but left her career in science to become a stay at home mom. Years of playing with LEGO and coloring with crayons had her craving a more grown up purpose to her life and she began blogging and freelance writing full time. You can learn more about her HERE.
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