What to do with your old shoes

Because not everyone keeps 25 year-old trainers just to look at (like I do)

A question I have been asked A LOT recently is “how can I recycle my shoes?”. And I’ll be honest, I still don’t have a completely satisfactory answer to this. But my hope is that we can start here, and I can add to this article as and when things improve.

Obviously with any shoes you no longer want that are in good condition, I would advise donating them to charity or selling them on (more on that in a minute), but the problem arises when you actually wear a pair of shoes out and they really do need to go in the bin. Because not everyone wants to, like me, keep hold of a completely battered pair of adidas Superstars from 1995 just because sometimes you like to look at them. And maybe stroke them and think longingly of Britpop. See top picture…

ANYWAY. Enough of my sad life! Shoes are constructed from lots of different materials, and that complicates things even further. You have the upper, which is often leather or cotton, sometimes wool  (biodegradable), but is increasingly a man-made faux leather that is basically plastic (not biodegradable). Then you have the sole, which can be plastic, rubber or leather and various other materials, plus glue, stitching, insoles, laces etc. In order to recycle anything that is recyclable, all the different components have to be separated. And even if you managed to do that yourself, it’s not like you can just throw it into the curb-side recycling bin. So what’s the answer?

One day soon, I hope to tell you that you can just put them in the green bin and the council will deal with them. Even better, that you can send them back to the brand who made them and they will take responsibility for the end of life of the product they made (I have high hopes for this happening soon with the increasingly use of circular design, such as these revolutionary adidas Futurecraft trainers). In the meantime though, here are five things you can do with shoes that are past their best…

1.Repair

En Brogue in handmade shoes

Hannah wearing shoes she made at The Parachute Collective

When I made a pair of shoes last year, I learnt that a well-constructed pair of shoes can easily be taken apart to be fixed. I’ve used bog standard high street cobblers many times to resole leather shoes with great success, even when my toe has gone right through to the pavement. Many brands now offer repairs services specific to their designs as well, such as Grenson and Red Wing and for luxury specialities, try the brilliant The Restory, which will collect from anywhere in the UK. They can also change the colour of leather shoes if you like the style but not the shade, and even if you don’t need anything repaired it’s worth following their fascinating videos on Instagram.

2. Donate or sell

It’s no secret that we have all been buying more and more clothes since the turn of the century, and the knock-on effect is that we are less likely to wear a pair of shoes out. So donating to charity is a good option if you have some shoes in great condition that you think will go to a good home – trainers sell particularly well. You can also sell on a resale site like Depop if you think you have some that will fetch a higher price tag, or alternatively take them to a charity shop like Mary’s Living And Giving, Boutique by Shelter or The British Heart Foundation, which has an eBay account dedicated to designer goods that are donated to stores. I have also sold trainers privately on Instagram for around £40 per pair which I then donate to charity, meaning I can donate to causes which don’t necessarily have a shop presence.

READ MORE: THE RESPONSIBLE FOOTWEAR GUIDE

3. Recycle

If your shoes are past the point of no return, you can recycle them by taking them to a recycling centre or popping them in one of those shoe bins you see next to train stations and supermarkets (make sure you tie them in pairs) where the textiles part (e.g. the uppers and laces) can be recycled. You can also donate shoes at your local branch of Clarks, which uses them to raise money for Unicef with its shoeSHARE scheme that has been running since 2008. It’s unclear exactly what happens to the shoes after you’ve donated them but I am trying to find out! If you want to know exactly what will happen to your worn-out kicks, give them to Nike, whose NIKE GRIND initiative makes old sneakers into fibres for new sneakers and apparel, and even track and field surfaces.

4. Upcycle

ReCouture Clarks Originals

ReCouture Clarks Originals

There are some very clever folks out there making new shoes out of old shoes. Helen Kirkum collaborates with Traid to combine donated shoes and scraps of material into bespoke trainers, and she has a made-to-order service if you want something specific made from an old pair in your own collection. I also absolutely love ReCouture, which describes itself as an experimental repair shop. Sadly it’s in Tokyo so I can’t visit with a pair of my own Clarks Originals – something they specialise in (pictured above) – but I can swoon from afar over their Instagram account.

5. New Schuhs

Something I only learnt recently is that Schuh, the high street shoe store, has introduced a collection service for your old shoes. Bring in any pair – they don’t have to be from Schuh – and they will send them off for recycling as well as giving you a £5 voucher to spend on a new pair. I have some issues with this model which is used by lots of fashion stores now, as it’s designed to make you buy more new stuff from an unsustainable source. However, it works really well if you have kids and get through lots of pairs as their feet grow, and if you really do need a new pair. Schuh also has some very clear information on exactly where the shoes go to be recycled – Recyclatex can reuse approximately 98% of materials from the shoes and donates to charity for every tonne collected.

READ MORE: HOW TO CLEAN WHITE SHOES

If you’re reading this in the US, I highly recommend reading this excellent article by Elizabeth Cline which has lots of equivalent suggestions located in the States. And if you hear of any exciting initiatives you think I should know about, please leave a comment below or contact me on Instagram so I can update this feature! Knowledge is sustainable power…