Shoes are pretty essential, we're stuck with them. The problem is… the planet is stuck with them too.
Some shoe soles can remain in landfills for up to 1000 years. There are some organisations working to ensure that shoes get recycled, however, even so, about 90% of shoes still end up in landfills. The Australian Save Our Soles initiative states that each year, over 25 million pairs of sports shoes are imported into Australia and only 1% is estimated to be recycled.
Clearly, this is a big problem. All we have to do is look into our closets and look at how many shoes we have. I'm not a shoe person (I have other obsessions, but shoes are not one of them). I don't get excited over new shoes, I don't have 50 pairs sitting in my closet, I have one pair of sneakers, boots and sandals. But this means I wear them all to death. I know I can go through a pair of sneakers quickly because I'll wear them every single day.
Whether you're a shoe person or not, there will be a point where your shoes either need mending, recycling or donating.
Here are three ways to ensure your shoes don't end up in landfill
There are some shoe brands that are made from better quality materials, they're sturdier and they're built to last. For example, R.M. Williams, a prestigious Australian born boot company, might cost you an arm and a leg but they will last you for 25 years. They have a Boot Repair System, so that when your shoes are worn out and the soles are coming off you can take them back to their boot repair room and they'll repair them to be good as new.
We may not all be able to buy R.M. Williams, but we can opt for better quality, longer-lasting shoes. Even if the brand doesn't have a shoe repair program like R.M. Williams do, you can take your shoes to any cobbler and get them mended rather than buying a new pair.
What shoes can't be fixed?
However, not all shoes can be re-soled. Cheap, low-quality shoes often can't be re-soled because the replacement soles aren't available. Also, shoes, where the sole is integrated into their overall design, can't be re-soled. Like a lot of sneakers, for example. That's not to say there might be other issues with the shoe that can be fixed.
If you're good with your hands - learn how to mend them yourself, The Guardian has a great how-to guide on how to repair shoes
A quick google search can let you know where the closest drop-off spots are located. While local shops, such as Vinnies and The Red Cross are the usual suspects, don't forget about other charities doing good work such as Shoes for Planet Earth (Australia), sneakers4funds (US), and ShoeShare with Unicef (UK). Keeping this in mind, consider that this only extends the life of the shoes by one life-cycle before they might potentially end up in landfill.
There are issues with donating due to the demand being way less than the supply. According to Liz Ricketts, co-founder of the OR Foundation, 40% of clothing imported from the West is directly landfilled or burned with the percentage for footwear being most likely higher. So, just because you can donate your shoes doesn't mean that you're let off the hook and can buy as many shoes as you want.
And shoes have to be in good condition to donate - if you wouldn't wear them, don't donate them.
Recycling shoes is not easy. Embellishments and accents of mixed materials make it difficult, these are things like metal studs or mixing colours. This is where the manufacturing of the shoe and the design don't take into account what will happen when those shoes are no longer wearable
But okay, your shoes have reached the point of no return and they either sit in the back of your wardrobe collecting dust or they need to go. But don't throw them away just yet! That's where the aforementioned recycling organisations step in.For most shoes, it depends on the company, the materials and your country/community as to whether you will be able to easily recycle them. Do a google search in your area to see if there are shoe-recycling programs and drop-off locations near you.
Nike has a recycling program to recycle your old sneakers called Reuse-A-Shoe. If you're in the US, you can take your shoes to Asics stores who will help recycle your shoes as part of the I:CO program, a global waste handler whose parent company opened the world's first industrial-scale shoe recycling facility. They have also partnered with multiple other shoe companies, like Adidas who will recycle their shoes and turn bits of shoe rubber into rugs.
You can also recycle your shoes with Terracycle. This is not a free service. However, a good option is to get a bunch of friends or colleagues together and organise a shoe drive. Most likely many people in your community will have shoes they want to get rid of.
The best way to ensure you're not sending shoes to landfill or to nations that are inundated with the West's second hand stuff is to buy less. Always consider whether you actually need that new pair of shoes. If you have a special occasion where you require a certain type of shoe, ask a friend if you can borrow theirs first. And try to buy good quality, long-lasting shoes that you know you will wear more than once or twice whenever possible!