So you’ve set aside those unwanted sneakers – or slippers – that have collected dust or are worn beyond repair… now what? 

The United States Department of the Interior reported that Americans throw away over 300 million pairs of shoes – per year.

The stark reality is that most of these shoes contain synthetic rubber which when left to decompose – an average rate of 30 and 40 years – produces several forms of volatile compounds, some of which are not only harmful to our planet, but harmful to vulnerable communities. 

A pair of old women's sneakers on pavement

The good news is that many of us – along with the footwear industry – have become increasingly conscious of our carbon footprint, and are open to finding alternative practices to lessen the environmental impact that our waste is producing. 

It’s never been easier to find sustainable options, so we rounded up a few to help get you started!

How To Recycle Your Shoes — Or Maybe Donate or Upcycle Them

TerraCycle

TerraCycle, a privately-owned social enterprise on a mission to eliminate the idea of waste, has the most robust recycling program, and zero-waste solution for your unwearable shoes. 

There are two routes you can take when recycling with TerraCycle. The first is through its National Recycling Solution Programs, which offers free nationally sponsored recycling solutions.

The caveat with some of these programs is that several come with restrictions. For instance, the Teva Sandals Recycling Program strictly accepts Teva sandals.

However, if you’re in the middle of a major home clean-out, and don’t mind spending the extra cash to thoughtfully clear out your shoe collection, a great second option TerraCycle offers is their Zero Waste Box.

This one-time use box ranges between $129 and $279, and accepts any form of footwear. Once you select your package, all that’s left for you to do is to pack and ship it out – TerraCycle will take care of the rest!

Nike Grind

Nike’s sneaker recycling program, Nike Grind, is great for anyone on the hunt for sneaker recycling programs.

Nike will take your old tennis shoes – regardless of brand – and grind them into raw material which is then repurposed into athletic fields, courts, running tracks, and playgrounds. 

Donation drops are located all over the U.S. and can be located through Nike's online store locator!

Soles4Souls + Zappos for Good 

Soles4Souls, a Nashville, Tennessee-based international nonprofit, is dedicated to diverting gently-worn shoes from landfills, and redistributing them to entrepreneurs in developing countries. 

To date, Soles4Souls has kept 71 million pounds of textiles out of U.S. landfills, helping to preserve our planet for future generations. This program has also offered economic opportunities for individuals around the world living in extreme poverty. 

You can find a drop-off location near you, or ship your shoes for free – up to 50 pounds in the continental U.S. – by participating in their Zappos for Good partnership program.

Resell

If you’ve got a pair of unwanted – but well-preserved – shoes begging to see the light of day, the resale market just may be the ideal place for them! 

Online consignment marketplaces such as Poshmark, Depop, eBay, and The Real Real have made it significantly easier to resell any gently-used products. 

Not exactly “tech-savvy?” In-person consignment options are available in most cities across the country, and are great for those who want to give reselling a shot!

Repair 

If you don’t have it in you to part ways with your favorite leather boots – but they’re in dire need of a little TLC – there just may be a way to save them: by repairing or upcycling! 

You’d be surprised at just how transformational a trip to your local cobbler can be for your shoes. Take brothers Trenton and Heath Potter, two Nashville-based cobblers, who take seemingly beyond-repair shoes and breathe life back into them.  

You can also take matters into your own hands by giving your sneakers a new pair of laces or patching any holes with fun fabric! 

The beauty of the internet is that there’s endless amounts of DIY upcycle project ideas – like this one and this one – to help get you started. 

Person wearing dirty, unlaced working/hiking boots, ready for recycle

Recycling Shoes Doesn’t Have To Be Complicated

Regardless of whether you want to recycle, resell, repair or upcycle your old shoes, your decision to choose our environment first is a huge deal! The hope is that our collective decisions move us from a linear economy model to a more circular, sustainable one.