What Happens to Donated Footwear?
Planet Aid receives lots of questions about whether or not we can recycle shoes. We’d like to set the record straight and let everyone know that, yes, we will help you keep your old sneakers, sandals, and other footwear out of the landfill.
Planet Aid accepts any style of shoe, in any condition. After they’re dropped off in a yellow bin, they can be recycled in one of two ways: reprocessed into new material, or resold in places where they are needed.
Recycling Shoes for the Environment
Old shoes occupy valuable landfill space and take a long time to decompose, so it’s crucial that we don’t throw them in the trash. A material called Ethylene Vinyl Acetate that is commonly found in the midsoles of running shoes can take up to 1,000 years to break down. Decomposing organic shoe materials like leather and wood release methane, a harmful greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change. We can’t continue to throw our footwear in the landfill and hope the problem will go away-- the world’s oldest found shoe is around 5,500 years old!
Recycling old shoes also helps offset the environmental impact of making new ones. Manufacturing a pair of shoes generates 30 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions, and when you multiply that by the estimated 20 billion pairs manufactured each year the environmental toll becomes enormous.
Footwear is more difficult to recycle than clothing because many styles are comprised of a variety materials, but there have been great technological strides made to save these materials from the landfill. The soles of sneakers, for example, can be broken down and reprocessed into material for sports fields.
Reselling Shoes to Help the Poor
The majority of good-quality secondhand shoes are resold in developing countries where the market demand for them is high. These shoes are affordable for locals and boost income for shoe resellers and repairers.
You might be asking why Planet Aid and other charities don’t just give these shoes away. Dropping off shoes or clothing in a developing country is a temporary fix to a much larger problem, while allowing the clothes to be resold through local markets sustains jobs for textile merchants instead of making them irrelevant. In fact, there are some countries in Africa that have laws against accepting free clothing for this reason. The funds we raise from the sale of donated shoes allow us to invest in projects that help remove families from the cycle of poverty altogether.
Access to affordable secondhand shoes helps prevent problems associated with walking in bare feet. An estimated 24 percent of the global population is infected with preventable soil-transmitted infections like hookworm and threadworm, and part of the solution is simply making sure that feet are covered. People without shoes are also more likely to get foot lacerations that can become infected and lead to larger medical problems.
Shoelessness has debilitating social affects, as well. Many schools require shoes as part of their uniform, so those who don’t have a pair are effectively prohibited from getting an education. Secondhand shoes are a solution for families who can’t afford the higher prices of locally-made ones.
Saving Footwear in Your Community
We encourage everyone to drop off their unwanted shoes in our yellow bins, even the pairs that are beat up or out of style. Almost all secondhand items can be used for another purpose, so there’s no reason not to give them a shot at a new life.Aid is fortunate to have partners who help us work towards the goal of keeping shoes out of the landfill. We have partnered with institutions like the Naval Academy to keep its students’ shoes from going in the trash, as well as sustainable footwear companies like truA. We also have great individual supporters that have collected shoes in their communities, like Eagle Scout Brydon from Missouri who donated over 300 pairs.
We encourage everyone to drop off their unwanted shoes in our yellow bins, even the pairs that are beat up or out of style. Almost all secondhand items can be used for another purpose, so there’s no reason not to give them a shot at a new life.
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