Are Shoes Recyclable? How to Recycle Your Old Shoes
Around 300 million pairs of shoes are thrown away in the US with each pair taking anywhere from 30 to 40 years to fully decompose. When the shoes finally break down into their individual components, they release plastics, adhesives, natural fibers, and metal which are never reused.
The best way to keep your shoes out of the waste stream is to recycle them, but what exactly does it mean to recycle your shoes?? And is it possible to recycle every last part of a shoe, or will it still generate waste of some kind?
Shoes are recyclable, but the shoe recycling process leans more towards keeping them useful and on people's feet than breaking down the materials for reuse.
Rather, the goal is to keep shoes on people's feet for longer before they're disposed of for good. Meanwhile, manufacturers like Rothy's are going the distance to create shoes that are made from waste stream materials and recyclable. Other shoe manufacturers take shoes, break them down, and recycle some of the components into athletic flooring and surfaces.
Look for information on the shoebox or the shoes themselves to find out if they're recyclable the next time you buy a pair. This will tell you if the shoes are recyclable in the sense of being able to send them back to the manufacturer for breaking down, or if you should plan to donate them when you're done with them.
In the meantime, read on to learn more about how to recycle shoes and why Rothy's recyclable shoes are changing the shoe recycling ecosystem.
Are shoes recyclable?
As a general rule, shoes aren't recyclable in the way most people think of recycling. The common concept of recycling is putting items into the recycling bin or box to return them to a raw state and get reused in another product.
Shoes are made of different materials that begin with rubber for the soles, synthetic or natural materials for the uppers, and sometimes metal is used for eyelets and shanks for arch support. Tearing apart a shoe for recycling can be a complex endeavor, especially if it's made of multiple materials.
What does it mean for a piece of clothing to be recyclable?
Check the label of the garment or shoe in order to figure out if a piece of clothing or pair of shoes is recyclable. Manufacturers like Rothy’s put tags and labels on their footwear to let you know if the item can be recycled. Sustainable flats like the ones made by Rothy's are recyclable in their entirety due to the fact that all elements used in the construction of the shoe are made from recyclable materials.
How do you dispose of shoes in an environmentally friendly way?
There are a few ways to dispose of shoes that slow down their trip to the landfill. You can donate, resell, find recycling programs, and repair your shoes when possible.
Reselling your old shoes
Some shoe brands have good resale value on the secondary market. Reselling your shoes helps put a little cash back in your pocket for a pair of sustainable shoes and extends the life of your old shoes.
Check resale websites to find out the going price for the brands you own and are looking to sell. The final sale prices can help you decide if it's worth making the effort to resell, or if you should donate or recycle.
Donating shoes comes in the form of giving them to friends and family who could use them, dropping them off at a thrift shop, or even a donation box in a parking lot. You can retain control of who, where, and how you give away your shoes, but by and large, donating them makes it more likely they'll wind up on someone else's feet and not in the landfill.
Repair your shoes
All shoes are made in the same way in that they consist of an upper connected to the sole. This means some shoes can be resoled repeatedly over their lifetime. A gym shoe isn't necessarily designed to be resoled, but you can resole a pair of quality shoes or boots.
Seek out a reputable shoe repair establishment and bring your shoes in for an inspection. The shoe repair technician can let you know if your shoes are repairable or not. In the event the shoes can't be repaired, the technician will most likely be able to tell you how to recycle them.
Buy shoes from Rothy’s and take advantage of their recycling program
Rothy's makes sustainable shoes that are washable and recyclable, two features that help you keep your shoes going for longer in both contexts. All of Rothy’s shoes are made out of washable material, and come with instructions on how to wash shoes from all of the collections. When you're done with wearing a pair of Rothy's, you can send them back for recycling and keep the shoe materials out of waste streams and landfills.
Rothy’s uses materials that are diverted from ocean-bound waste as well as harvesting harmful algae that chokes streams and rivers for construction of its shoes. The techniques used in making the materials for Rothy's shoes are proven and demonstrate that it's possible to make a fully recyclable shoe. When you buy a pair of Rothy’s, you're wearing a pair of sustainably made shoes from materials that won't reach a landfill when sent back in for recycling.
Can I put shoes in my recycle bin?
As a general rule, you can't put your old shoes into the recycling bin, even if they're made out of recyclable materials. The waste removal agency that services your home may not have the capability to recycle shoes. However, it's worth checking to see if your waste removal agency has a special program for collecting old shoes in the recycling bin. It may also have a program for you to drop off your old shoes at a nearby facility.
Recycling shoes helps reduce the demand for unrecyclable shoes
It's an unfortunate fact that a majority of shoes are going to wind up in the landfill at some point, but you can help extend the life of a pair of shoes through donation. The average lifespan for a pair of shoes is anywhere from a year to five years, depending on their design. Running and walking shoes are designed to last 350 to 500 miles, which isn't a lot for people who engage in regular fitness activity.
Donating your shoes, even if they're running shoes at the end of their lifespan, keeps them out of the landfill and on the feet of people who couldn't afford them otherwise. Insoles can be replaced to provide cushion, and the soles are capable of providing traction and shock absorption for some time. A pair of shoes that you wore for three or four years will eventually go on to last a few more. This also has the effect of reducing the demand for a new pair of shoes that require the use of fresh materials for manufacturing.
Where to donate shoes
Donating your shoes for other people to wear is one of the best ways to keep them out of the waste stream. You'll find that a simple internet search for "donate shoes near me" delivers plenty of information about how to recycle your shoes.
Community groups frequently have used shoe drives, as do gyms. Other places to donate your shoes include women's and men's shelters as they provide temporary housing for adults and children. Men's shelters typically accept men's shoes only, but women's shelters will take kids shoes as well as womens shoes.
How to dispose of your shoe boxes
Shoe boxes are made from cardboard and use paper fillers for the inside of the shoe and wrapping. You can put them into the recycling bin, or you can use them for storage. They're an ideal size for storing small things in the closet and keeping them out of harm's way with their sturdy construction.
Always recycle your shoes (if you can)
Clothing waste is a major issue, especially with the shift to fast fashion that focuses on selling cheaply made clothing and shoes. It's a problem that has no good solution at the current time outside of recycling through donation and reuse. Experts are studying ways in which to recycle the materials used in making shoes, but good solutions take time to create. In the meantime, you can take action by recycling your shoes in a way that makes the most sense to you as well as buying recyclable shoes.
Rothy’s has made it a point to create a sustainable line of shoes for men, women, and children that are fashionable and comfortable. The process of making a pair of Rothy's begins with the diversion of plastic bottles and other plastic waste from waste streams. The bottles are then converted into a thread that's woven into a knit fabric. This fabric is made into uppers and the insoles are made from an algae-based foam. All other materials come from renewable and sustainably harvested resources that are either biodegradable or recyclable.
Buying a pair of Rothy's helps reduce the amount of waste that reaches landfills and waterways long before a pair of shoes is made. In turn, you get a pair of shoes that look great, help improve the environment, and are recyclable. Rothy's designs are fashionable in a way that won't go out of style, are washable, and have replaceable insoles. When you're ready to part with your shoes, you can send them to Rothy's for shoe recycling and keep them out of the landfill forever.