How to Reduce, Reuse, or Recycle Your Running Shoes

A pair of feet in running shoesRunners go through a lot of shoes. According to the National Sporting Goods Association, 4.6 million pairs of running shoes were sold in the United States in 2012. So what to do with all those shoes once they have outlived their useful running lives, beyond downgrading them to casual shoes?

Reduce!

Hahahaha, as if! In fact, many of us could do with adding a pair to our rotation. Still, if you keep track of your mileage-per-shoe, you start to get a really good idea of when shoes run out, and we have plenty of other tips to help you use them as long as possible. A big one: reserving your training shoes for running can help extend their lives. Once they wear out enough that you can no longer use them for training you can introduce them into casual wear rotation.


Reuse!

First, I’d like to add a bit of a disclaimer before we proceed: be honest with yourself when assessing your shoes and their condition. The phrase that we all know is “reduce, reuse, recycle.” It’s a hierarchy, but if your shoes have holes worn in the uppers or have half the soles worn off, they aren’t good candidates for reuse. Pay attention to the donation requirements that different places have, and be real about whether your shoes are a fit. If they aren’t, look for a better match or try recycling instead, rather than causing more work for the charity by giving them something they will have to toss.

Local Charities:

Ask around to find out if local running clubs or store collect used running shoes for anything. Both of my local running stores have baskets for shoes; these are donated to a local shelter for people experiencing homelessness. If my shoes are in OK shape, I simply toss them in my car and wait until the next time I’m in the vicinity of one of the stores.

One World Running:

If you tried a pair of shoes but didn’t love them and somehow can’t return them, you can donate them to an organization who will match them with another runner!

One World Running is an international program promoting health, fitness and nutrition by providing running shoes to those in need in the United States and around the world. This all-volunteer non-profit based out of Boulder, CO, has been collecting and distributing shoes for 27 years.

What’s accepted: Shoes in new or “like-new” condition are shipped to one of the designated partner communities. Shoes that are in poor condition are sent to Nike to be ground up and made into running tracks and playgrounds through the Reuse-a-Shoe program. (A local laundry donates washing services, but it’s appreciated if you wash the shoes in cold water and air dry before donating them.)

Where: Find a drop-off location or mail the shoes to One World Running c/o Boulder Storage, 6439 Arapahoe Rd., Boulder, Colo. 80303.

Shoes for Water:

Shoes are sold to an exporter and funds received help bring clean water to those in need through WaterStep. This also results in affordably priced shoes for those in need. Many of the countries WaterStep serves are also areas where shoes are sent.

What’s accepted: gently used shoes without mold or mildew; athletic shoes preferred. The soles of the shoes should still have reasonable tread on them. A good rule of thumb is that better quality shoes equal stronger funding power.

Where: Find a drop site near you.

Sole4Soles:

Since 2006, this Nashville-based nonprofit has kept 47 million pounds of textiles out of landfills. They have a focus on disrupting the cycle of poverty, and have distributed shoes in 127 countries.

What’s accepted: New or gently used shoes, even half pairs.

Where: Find a collection site near you, including DSW stores. You can also take advantage of Zappos for Good, which will ship your shoe and clothing donation for free. Donate as many items as you’d like, up to 50 lbs per box.


Recycle!

Clothes the Loop

The North Face recycles shoes and apparel through this program. Since Clothes the Loop started in 2013, people have brought in more than 95,000 pounds of clothing and footwear to The North Face stores for reuse and recycling. As an added bonus, by dropping off your unwanted kicks, you will even earn rewards to be used at the store.

What’s accepted: Used footwear and apparel (any condition, any brand).

Where: Participating The North Face retail and outlet stores across the U.S., Canada and Germany.

Patagonia:

What’s accepted: All Patagonia products. I love that they point out that reuse should come first! “While we encourage you to find a new home for any garments or items that are still useable, any Patagonia product that has reached the end of its useful life may be sent back to us to be recycled or repurposed.”

Where: Drop off at the Patagonia store or retailer nearest you, or mail them to: Patagonia Service Center, 8550 White Fir Street, Reno, NV 89523-8939.

Reuse-A-Shoe 

This program takes old athletic shoes and transforms them into “Nike Grind”. Together with surplus manufacturing scraps, the recycled footwear is used to make performance products, ranging from new footwear to sports surfaces like running tracks, turf fields and playgrounds.

What’s accepted: any brand of athletic shoes, excluding sandals or shoes with metal (i.e. spikes).

Where: Most Nike stores participate in the Reuse-A-Shoe program, but it’s still a good idea to call before you stop by (thanks to reader Kay for this tip).

Do you know of other organizations that collect running shoes for reuse or recycling?

Southern transplant who loves 90s boy bands, outdoor adventures and college basketball, although not necessarily in that order. Recovering running perfectionist.

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2 comments

  1. Great tips! Another one I like to do for “reuse” is, after my running shoes have worn out to the point where they are no longer supportive enough for running, I retire them but keep them to use them as shoes for travel/errands/yard work/gym shoes/walking shoes so that I don’t have to buy other shoes to do those things in. Also funny story, once I ordered some running shoes online on final sale clearance that I ended up not liking for running, but they turned out to be amazing walking shoes. They are now my designated travel shoes.