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Keeping Sneakers Out of the Landfill 

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Athletic shoes last 300 to 500 miles, and because they’re made of many different materials, most cities can’t recycle them. Sneakers often contain synthetic substances like ethylene-vinyl acetate to keep them from breaking down while we work out, but those same polymers also render our kicks nonbiodegradable.

Athletic footwear languishing in landfills releases volatile organic compounds linked to asthma, cancer and other health complications. Instead of discarding old shoes that will take 30 to 40 years to decompose, consider these alternatives.

Finding a Home for Still-Wearable Shoes

  • Donate: Organizations like Soles 4Souls.org, OneWorldRunning.com or EcoSneakers.org distribute used shoes to those in need all over the world. The people behind Sneak erImpact.com help small businesses in developing countries sell gently used sneakers, providing affordable footwear in places where it is not otherwise available.
  • Sell: There is a robust secondhand market for like-new athletic shoes. Check out Facebook Marketplace, Poshmark.com, Grailed.com or a local consignment store.
  • Swap: Trade with friends or buy-nothing groups for a no-cost, fresh look.

Repairing Busted Kicks

  • Local Cobbler: Find a neighborhood shoe repair store to fix the hole in the toe, refurbish a deteriorating tongue or correct an ill-fitting shoe.
  • Mail Order Service: NuShoe.com offers factory-quality shoe renewal by mail order. Repairs are performed in San Diego.

Managing Expired Sneakers

  • Sustainable Shoes: Eco-forward companies are manufacturing fully recyclable sneakers from a combination of biodegradable elements (castor beans, coconut husk, sugar cane) and recycled materials (yoga mats, fishing nets, plastic bottles). Customers can trade in used shoes to be recycled into new pairs. Learn more at On-Running.com, ThousandFell.com and NothingNew.com.
  • Local Recycling: Some neighborhood shoe stores take old shoes and recycle or donate them for free.
  • Manufacturer Recycling: Before trashing a pair of sneakers, check the manufacturer’s recycling policy. Nike, for example, encourages its customers to drop off old athletic shoes at participating stores. Used Nikes are either cleaned, upcycled and donated, or recycled into new shoes or playground materials.
  • TerraCycle: This organization recycles all sorts of items, including sneakers. Learn more at TerraCycle.com.
  • Repurposing: Find ways to use old sneakers for other purposes, such as yard-work shoes, birdhouses, scarecrow shoes or Halloween decorations. The insole padding can be turned into knee pads. Mesh can be repurposed into bags or pouches.
  • Composting: Natural shoes made of cotton, bamboo or hemp are compostable, but do the homework to make sure they don’t have any synthetic materials.
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