Fascinating article about old running shoes rerouted from recycling

I’ve always wondered what really happens with old running shoes I donate. What Reuters found in this article undoubtedly isn’t precisely true of shoes donated in Ithaca, but I’m really tempted to hide an AirTag in a pair and see what happens.

Of course, they’re very put out that Dow isn’t recycling the shoes, and the article does point out that some percentage of the shoes are too damaged to be worn again and thus end up in landfills. But it would seem to be better if someone is getting more use out of a pair of old shoes before recycling them.

1 Like

@adamengst I’d like to challenge you: How are you certain that this doesn’t happen to the shoes you donate in Ithaca? :face_with_monocle: Do you actually know where your donated items end up?

I ask you this because I just wrote an article on this exact topic that will be posted later this week. Where do our donated running clothes and shoes end up? Turns out the vast majority end up landfilled here (not necessarily on someone else’s feet), and of the percentage that is exported to countries like Ghana, Kenya, Indonesia, many more there can’t be sold in the secondhand markets of the Global South and so are landfilled in those countries.

As you know, landfills produce methane…so there are periodically fires in these landfills sitting adjacent to villages in many cases… And the air quality is poor as a result. Leaching of toxins into the groundwater from plastic clothing and shoes also poses additional problems for the villagers.

Between all the running clothing and shoes many runners generate, as well as the boom in fast fashion, the reality is that many avenues of recycling are exhausted. I’m honestly not surprised that some of these donated shoes in the article ended up in the international secondhand market.

And items we donate to thrift stores such as Goodwill, the Thrifty Shopper, etc. often only sit for several weeks before being moved to some other location. There are more specifics in the article and I’m just generalizing here for the sake of brevity. Yes, too often the shoes donated are not really usable for anyone anymore. My Speedgoats, for example, are trashed. I’m wearing them with jeans and storing them for the time being, certain that no one will want to wear them lol.

As far as running shoes go, because modern running shoes are made from a variety of materials, they are almost impossible to recycle, other than grinding up for track surfaces. But again, there is only so much demand for track surfaces, and the supply significantly exceeds the demand.

Some companies like Adidas are working on shoes with soles and uppers of the same material, so the whole thing can later be ground and regenerated into a new shoe when the previous one wears out. There may also be 3D printing of shoes. But we’re not quite there yet with these technologies.

Anyway, just my two cents. :upside_down_face: Definitely a topic near and dear to me, so I appreciate you sharing the article. Appears to be a good example of a company guilty of greenwashing.

Nope, I don’t know what happens at all, and that’s what I’m planning to sacrifice an AirTag to find out. Here’s what I wrote about this article for my publication.

@Ian, @FARVets, you both have some experience with collecting shoes. What’s your thinking about where they really go?

I briefly looked into what it would cost to have our own track. Sadly, it was about $500,000 for just the track itself, not including the architectural plans, grading, electricity, water, and any buildings. But maybe if we recycle enough shoes! :wink:

Killian Jornet’s NNormal brand claims that their shoes will be almost entirely recyclable, and they have a take-back program for gear from any company. One wonders how they’ll deal with it all.


I look forward to reading your article!

@adamengst I’m sure they’ve done some research but may find that they quickly are quickly overrun by secondhand clothing and shoes, and not all of it recyclable. I wonder if they’ve talked to other organizations that have already tried this, including ReRun Clothing, which was based in the UK and only shut down a few months back (I believe because they were overrun with clothing).

I just emailed NNormal and asked for specifics about their recycling program. I sent them seven questions to understand the research they’ve done into this before committing to this monumental task. I do believe there is a growing culture of greenwashing by some brands to appease customers who are actually getting concerned about the environment. Not all perhaps, but some. It might be interesting to learn exactly what NNormal’s plans are for handling it all. I don’t necessarily get the sense that they would greenwash, but I do think that recycling polyester and blended fabrics and shoes is a bit more challenging than the majority of the population realizes and I’d love to learn more about their plans.

I’ll let you know what I hear.

1 Like

The various companies we’ve dealt with resell them to other nations / markets, at least some in Africa. Guessing they do a light / quick sift, sell what they receive for something like a dollar, and receivers turn them over for two dollars. Something to that effect, and with them then paying storage, administration, and shipping as their cost of goods sold. Nike used to have a Regrind drop off location in Syracuse with that stated end use of playgrounds / Tracks. A friend Diane, or lived in Ithaca for a time would pick up our used batches and take them up to that facility. They pulled that out years ago though.