Are there ways to recycle old athletic shoes?
—Carmen Wolf, Los Angeles, CA
Probably the best way to make your worn out sneakers go the extra mile is to recycle them through Nike’s Reuse-a-Shoe program, which since 1993 has converted more than 15 million old athletic shoes (any brand, not just its own) into components in more than 170 community sport surfaces across the United States as well as in the United Kingdom, Australia and Japan.
Nike separates the incoming old shoes into their component parts, and then grinds the various materials up at its Reuse-A-Shoe recycling facility in Wilsonville, Oregon. The resulting material, collectively know as “Nike Grind,” is separated into three categories: outsole rubber, midsole foam and upper fabric. Rubber from the outsole is used in the making of synthetic soccer, football and baseball fields; foam from the midsole is used for synthetic basketball courts, tennis courts and playground surfaces; and fabric from the shoes” upper becomes padding used under hardwood basketball floors. Nike supplies such major indoor and outdoor athletic surface companies such as Atlas Track (running surfaces), Rebound Ace (tennis and basketball courts), Connor Sports Flooring (gym floors) and Field Turf (synthetic outdoor grass).
According to Nike, it takes approximately 75,000 pairs of shoes to make one outdoor playing field. The company’s goal is to recycle two million pairs of shoes each year.
Reuse-a-Shoe accepts all athletic shoes as long as they do not contain any metal (zippers, eyelets, spikes, etc.). The Nike website offers a list of collection locations—which includes recycling centers at municipalities from coast to coast—as well as an address to which old shoes can be shipped. Shoes submitted to the free program must be clean (mud-free) and tied together or paired accordingly. The company also hopes to eventually recycle old shoes into new ones.
For people with wearable athletic shoes they’d like to be rid of, there’s also the option of donating sneakers to local charities and thrift stores. The Children’s Rights Foundation (CRF), for one, sponsors an annual used athletic shoe drive through different retail shoe shops nationally. Retailers promote the shoe drive through normal means of advertising. Customers are directed to bring their used wearable shoes to participating stores in exchange for a discount on new shoes as decided by individual retailers. CRF then donates the used sneakers to needy and at-risk children and their families within the U.S. and abroad.
Some local recycling services will also take your old wearable sneakers and shoes and direct them to those in need. One such service is Eco-Cycle, a non-profit recycler based in Boulder, Colorado. The organization’s Center for Hard-to-Recycle Materials program will take your old pairs of shoes—as well as accessories and other clothing—and send them to relief agencies in developing countries.