Running shoes tend to have a shorter life span than other shoes you wear day to day. They get beat up, get soaked in sweat and their cushioning often wears out before the upper is toast.
That means running shoes don’t last as long as we’d all like them to. There are ways to extend the life of your running shoes, but they will eventually wear out no matter how well you take care of them.
So what do you do with your trusty kicks once they’re worn out? Here’s how you can recycle (or repurpose) your running shoes.
There are two widespread recycling programs that will take your old running shoes. They accept different kinds of shoes and have different applications.
TerraCycle is a company that works to recycle almost everything that can not be recycled on the curb. From food wrappers and cigarette butts to water filters and e-waste, TerraCycle works in 20 countries to “eliminate the idea of waste.”
Through TerraCycle, you can buy a Shoes and Footwear Zero Waste Box, which accepts nearly all kinds of shoes (the exceptions only being skates and ski boots). Currently, there are three different sized boxes available between $109 and $249. Users ship the boxes via FedEx directly to TerraCycle once they are full.
Since you do have to pay, this is a great program for a group to participate in. Maybe you can collect shoes for an Earth Day running club event or during a race.
Once the shoes (or any other waste) get to TerraCycle, they work to process it and send it to the right places.
“Waste is aggregated at our facility and then sent to a processor where the collected waste is mechanically and/or manually separated into fabrics, metals, fibers, and plastics,” a TerraCycle spokesperson says in an email to Fleet Feet.
TerraCycle says shoes are broken down into their different parts, and the components are sorted in with all other waste streams to be sent on and turned into new materials.
Nike also has a shoe recycling program, called Reuse-A-Shoe.
The free program only accepts athletic shoes, and they must be dropped off at a Nike store. Nike then uses the collected shoes to make both athletic apparel and running surfaces, such as tracks, courts and playing fields.
Nike says it accepts any brand of athletic shoes, but they're unable to recycle sandals, dress shoes, boots or shoes with metal, like cleats or spikes.
Running shoes are not often a great item to donate to a second hand store. They are not an item that people will generally want to reuse.
However, if your shoes aren’t totally worn out, you have some more options for donation beyond a local thrift store. Maybe your shoes didn’t quite fit right or the kids outgrew them quickly. Shoes like that are perfect to give to someone who really needs them, and there are a few organizations that do just that.
If the only problem is that the cushioning is worn out, consider repurposing your old running shoes.
You can use old shoes to cut the grass or work in the garden. Painting the walls? Throw on an grubby pair so you don’t have to worry about them. You could also cut off the backs and use them as slip ons to take the dog out.
When your running shoes are ready to be retired, consider recycling, donating or repurposing them in some way to cut down on waste or improve some else's life.
By Maureen Wise. Maureen caught the running bug in high school when she was the only female to run the two-mile race on her high school track team. Not that she was a fast runner then—or now—but she's been at it for 20 years and has run more 5Ks than she cares to count.