Save Your Old Shoes From the Landfill—and Recycle Them for Free

A new industry-wide shoe drive is helping to reduce waste and fight poverty around the world.

Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash

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It’s no secret that gear waste is a massive problem in our industry. Despite impactful advances in sustainability in recent years, the end-of-life phase for most outdoor gear, especially footwear, remains a problem—as recycling for products like shoes and boots is notoriously difficult and expensive.

This month, in honor of Earth Day, Outside (our parent company) has launched a large-scale shoe drive in cooperation with Tennessee-based organization Soles4Souls to help fix the problem. Headquartered in Nashville, Soles4Souls accepts donations of used shoes and clothing across the U.S., repurposing those products to supply micro-enterprises, disaster relief programs, and direct-assistance efforts all over the world. In other words, the group not only saves gear from the landfill, it helps people in need by repurposing shoes for good causes.

If you have piles of old shoes and boots lying around your home—or even just a pair or two you no longer use—consider saving them from the landfill by donating through Outside’s drive. It’s quick, easy, and best of all, completely free for you.

How Outside’s shoe drive works

The process for donating shoes is simple. Just navigate to Outside’s campaign page hosted on the Soles4Souls website and follow three steps:

  1. Print and fill out a donor form
  2. Box up your shoes with the completed donor form
  3. Print a free shipping label, courtesy of Soles4Souls’ partnership with Zappos, and drop the box in the mail

To print out the Zappos label, you’ll need to sign in with your Zappos account, or an Amazon or Gmail account if you prefer.

Shoes can be of any kind, other than highly technical footwear like rock climbing shoes and ski boots. Donors can ship up to 50 pounds of shoes per box, with no limit on the number of boxes sent.

Why shoes?

Simply put, shoes and other textiles are a problem for the planet if not disposed of properly.

“On average, Americans throw away 70 pounds of textiles per person, per year,” Soles4Souls’ website reads. “That adds up to 21 billion pounds of unnecessary waste added to our landfills. The EPA estimates that only 15 percent of clothing and footwear in the U.S. is recycled, leaving the remaining 85 percent in our landfills.”

To solve the problem, the group says it focuses on recycling used gear as well as repurposing it to help those in need around the world: “By putting unwanted shoes to good use, textiles are kept out of landfills. Shoes prevent injuries and illnesses, and they provide dignity to people in need. Micro-entrepreneurs can also sell shoes to build businesses and support their families.”

About Soles4Souls

Since its founding in 2006, Soles4Souls has kept more than 51 million pounds of shoes and clothing out of landfills.

“We focus on three main program areas to fulfill our mission,” the company says in its promotional materials. First is free distribution: “We distribute new shoes, donated by our corporate partners, to people in need in the U.S. and around the world.” The second focus is micro-enterprise: “We help hard-working entrepreneurs build their own small businesses selling donated shoes.” Finally, impact travel is one of the company’s specialties, achieved through its Global Experiences program: “Traveling on a Soles4Souls Global Experience is a great way to learn new cultures, meet amazing people, and play a hands-on role in distributing shoes to people in need.”

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