zero waste

Ethical Fashion, Life & Style

How To Recycle Shoes, Boots & Trainers Correctly

Have your shoes seen better days? Don’t bin your old shoes. Instead, here’s how to recycle your worn-out shoes, boots and trainers to help minimise waste.

Buying ethically made shoes is tricky. Recycling your old shoes correctly can be even trickier. An enigma wrapped in a conundrum even.

What makes shoes so tricky to buy and recycle at the end of their life is that, unlike your standard cotton t-shirt that’s made entirely of cotton, shoes are made of a wide mix of different materials. The soles may be rubber or plastic. The footbed may be made of some type of latex. Uppers on your shoe, depending on your preference, may be leather, canvas, wool, or PU plastic. Then there are the metal or plastic eyelets or zips. And then there’s the stitching and laces. In short, there’s a lot going on in one pair of shoes.

It’s a recycler’s nightmare, as in order to recycle shoes properly, each component has to be separated. This is no easy job. What’s more, the amount of work involved to separate individual components can make it not particularly cost-effective to recycle old shoes.

When you consider that globally we buy 24.2 billion pairs of shoes a year, and around 90% of discarded shoes end up in landfill each year, we’re talking about a huge environmental problem. It’s no wonder that so many of our old shoes do end up landfill.  However, once in landfill our shoes can leach toxic chemicals into the ground and our groundwater.

How To Recycle Your Old Shoes, Boots & Trainers

Flatlay of shoes, with blue text box that reads how to recycle your old shoes and boots and trainers correctly.

So how do we stop our old shoes from leaving such a gigantic environmental footprint on the planet? Here are a few steps you can take to first prolong the life of your shoes, and then recycle them for the best environmental outcome.

Mend Your Old Shoes First

Before passing on your shoes for recycling, first, it would be worthwhile investigating whether your shoes could be mended. There are many specialist shoe repairers out there – from specialist Birkenstock repair companies to Dr Marten repairers. And then there are the high street cobblers that can work wonders on your old boots or shoes.

I had one pair of boots repaired three times, before the cobbler and I decided that the boots were eventually beyond salvageable. This extended their life by years. It’s amazing what miracles can be worked – even if you think your shoes are past the point of no return.

Sell or Donate Good Quality Shoes

If shoes you no longer want are still in good condition, then it is better to sell or donate good-quality shoes rather than recycling them. There are a host of sites where you can sell your preloved shoes and clothes online. Alternatively, charity shops will accept shoes in good resellable condition. Give them a little clean before passing them on, and the shoes you no longer want could be someone else’s treasure.

Recycle Your Shoes At Schuh

For shoes that are beyond the point of reselling or repair, then there are ways to recycle your shoes to help ensure they stay out of landfill.

Schuh’s Sell Your Soles scheme is one way to recycle your shoes. Simply take any old and worn shoes to your nearest Schuh store. For each pair you hand in for recycling, Schuh will give you a voucher for £5 off a new pair of full-priced shoes costing £25 or more.  

What’s especially great is that Schuh will accept any type of shoes and any make or brand for recycling. This is regardless of whether they were purchased in Schuh or not.

Schuh has partnered with Manchester-based Recyclatex to deliver its shoe recycling scheme. This trading organisation – formed by several textile reuse and recycling companies who are experts in collection, logistics and identifying value in used clothing and shoes – then pass on to shoe recyclers in the Global South. Here, Recyclatex says as much as 98% of all shoes can be recycled.

What’s more, for every tonne of old shoes collected for recycling, a donation is made by Recyclatex to the World Land Trust.  This charity works with local partners around the world to save and protect critically threatened habitats for wildlife.

Recycle Shoes At Clarks

High street shoe retailer Clarks runs a shoe recycling scheme called ShoeShare. Not all stores take part in ShoeShare, so Clarks encourages customers to call ahead or check in-store before bringing in your old shoes for donation.

Again, similar to Schuh, Clark’s scheme is run by Recyclatex. And similar to Schuh, Clark’s will accept any type of shoes, and any make or brand for recycling.

For every tonne of shoes received, a donation is made to Unicef. This money goes towards Unicef’s education programmes around the world.

Recycle Trainers At Nike

For recycling trainers, I think a better option is the Nike recycling scheme. Whilst Nike doesn’t have a great sustainability record, its in-house recycling system is a great model for other retailers.

Here, rather than sending shoes to the Global South, Nike turns old trainers into Nike Grind. Nike Grind incorporates scraps from manufacturing waste, unused materials, and shoes for recycling. These materials are ground up, and then the resultant material is then processed into new materials.

Nike says that it has been incorporating Nike Grind into products, retail spaces, workplace environments, athletic facilities, skateboards, space shuttles, and more. This helps to keep old trainers out of landfills, and in active use in some way or another for longer.

Do note that Nike accepts any brand of athletic sneakers or trainers for recycling, apart from any shoes with metal, such as cycling shoes with cleats or golf shoes with spikes. Nike only accepts trainers, and won’t accept any other type of shoe.

You can take your old trainers for recycling to participating Nike stores. It’s best to contact your local Nike store in advance, to make sure they can take your old trainers.

Shoe Banks

If you don’t live near any of these High St stores, then the only other option that I’ve found is the shoe banks that you often find in Council recycling centres and some supermarket car parks. What happens to the shoes then depends on who collects them. Some may end up in charity shops, but I suspect most end up exported abroad to the South for sorting and recycling.

Sharing The Load

Not all of these schemes are in any way perfect. The Global South is overrun with our old clothes and shoes, to the detriment of people’s health, the environment, and to traditional economies. And not every pair of shoes will get recycled. Hopefully, in the future, we will see more inhouse recycling schemes, like Nike’s, that will help to alleviate that unfair burden.

In the meantime, we can help. We can buy fewer shoes, and we can take good care of them so that our footwear leaves less of a footprint on both people and the planet. You can also encourage your favourite shoe retailers to look into shoe recycling schemes to help make shoe recycling easier for everyone.

Home, Home and Garden

Plastic-Free July Ideas To Try This Summer

plastic-free July ideas

Need some Plastic-Free July ideas? Here are over 20 ideas to help you cut plastic in your own home, and also encourage wider change to make plastic-free living more accessible to more people.

Plastic-Free July is right around the corner, and if you are taking part then it’s great to have you on board. Worryingly, despite global campaigns on plastic usage, the amount of plastic that has ended up in our seas has grown and is to set to grow.

Global leaders from 175 countries got together in March 2022 to agree to a legally binding global treaty to end the plastic pollution crisis by tackling the material’s entire supply chain. However, work has only now begun on how to implement the treaty by 2024. We need action now to help decrease plastic in our seas, and efforts like Plastic-Free July are much needed.

What Is Plastic-Free July Exactly?

Zero-waste beauty products with blue text box that reads over 20 ideas to reduce plastic this plastic-free July.

Plastic-Free July is a month-long campaign, led by the Plastic Free Foundation, an independent not-for-profit charity. The charity’s vision is that of a world free of plastic waste. As such, the Plastic-Free July campaign encourages people to try to reduce their reliance on plastic where they can.

The challenge started in Australia back over 10 years ago. Since its inception in 2011, the challenge has inspired over 100 million people in 190 countries to take part and cut their single-use plastic usage.

The onus isn’t just on personal plastic usage. The Plastic-Free July campaign provides a great opportunity to ask businesses, such as supermarkets, what they are doing to reduce pointless single-use plastic packaging to encourage year-round change.

Plastic-Free July Ideas

I have amassed a few useful plastic-free July ideas over the years that may be helpful to you.

As Anne-Marie Bonneau says: “We don’t need a handful of people doing zero-waste perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly”. This means the goal isn’t for you to do all of these things. Rather it’s to pick which is accessible to you and to try out a few ideas to reduce plastic in your life where you can.

Plastic-Free July isn’t all or nothing, so don’t feel like because you have to buy items with plastic in them that you’ve failed. The world isn’t set up for plastic-free living to be the norm, and not everyone has the same ability, access or capacity. In short – do what you can and don’t stress what you can’t do.

The Plastic-Free Kitchen

plastic-free food shopping

Going plastic-free in the kitchen is possibly one of the trickiest areas and certainly not one that I have fully figured out yet. This is partly due to a combination of the lack of zero-waste shops in my local area and other factors such as cost and time. However, there are some things I have figured out!

Food storage is a great area to get started. Don’t bin any functional Tupperware thought. Instead, when it breaks try my tried and tested eco-friendly alternatives to cling film that I’ve been using for decades. You can also make your own beeswax food wraps quickly and easily.

When it comes to doing dishes, I still haven’t found out how to make my own washing-up liquid or dishwasher tablets that work effectively. The ingredients required just aren’t commercially available. However, I have found the best eco-friendly and plastic-free dishwasher detergent – including the detergents to be wary of. Some dishwasher detergents – even those that position themselves as eco-friendly – contain microplastic.

Speaking of microplastic, your teabags might contain plastic. Here are the plastic-free teabag brands to give that hidden plastic the heave-ho this July.

If you’d rather make your own tea, then here’s how to dry mint leaves for tea. And here’s how to make your own lemon balm tea. It’s one idea for Plastic-Free July if you have a little spare time. I find it quite relaxing and really fulfilling to make my own tea.

Whilst on the tea theme – I found the world’s best reusable cup for coffee or tea on the go. I’m still using it years later.

When it comes to food, as I mentioned, I’m still figuring this out. However, I have figured out plastic-free snacks. What can I say, I have two kids! You also can still have your crisps and eat them with this seriously tasty zero-waste crisps recipe.

You can also skip the bagged salad – here’s how to grow snow pea shoots indoors for the princely sum of 13p. Here’s also how to regrow vegetables from scraps. This is a fun activity for kids to take part in.

Plastic-Free Health & Beauty

flat lay of eco-friendly makeup

Greening your bathroom is a long-term process. It’s certainly not something you can overhaul in a month if you are sustainably replacing used-up products with plastic-free ones. However, here are some tips to help get you started during plastic-free July:

Moral Fibres readers recommend their best solid shampoo bars. Here are some refillable shampoo options if shampoo bars are not for you.

Staying on the washing theme, here’s a guide to plastic-free bubble bath.

When it comes to makeup, here’s my guide to plastic-free make-up. And when it comes to make-up removal, here’s how to make reusable cotton wool pads. With this, you can say bye-bye to disposable wipes or single-use cotton wool pads! You can also try my guide to plastic-free make-up remover tips.

My big guide to eco-friendly toilet roll – I’ve even made a comparison table so you can see the pros and cons and costs involved.

How to have an eco-friendly period.

And finally, my guide to microplastic-free sunscreen, should the sun shine this July!

Plastic-Free July Cleaning Ideas

Plastic-free cleaning products on a white background.

I have so much content on cleaning. What, can I say, it’s a speciality of mine. I’ve managed to condense it all into this guide on natural cleaning products to DIY.

General Plastic-Free Living

Finally, for general plastic-free living here are some useful pointers:

If you are pregnant or have small children, and considering cloth nappies, then try my guide on how to use reusable nappies. I promise they’re not as scary, difficult, or yucky as you might think!

Plastic pops up everywhere. Here are some surprising items that contain plastic. Chewing gum anyone?

And finally, here are my top tips on how to stop junk mail – that barrage of unwanted plastic that comes through our doors every day.

Other Ways To Take Action On Plastic

Of course, individual action is only one way to enact change. To bring about change faster, we have to lobby manufacturers and policymakers.

Several charities are making it easy to take collective action against manufacturers and policymakers. Surfers Against Sewage, for example, are lobbying for a deposit return scheme to be introduced in England before 2024, to help curb plastic waste from plastic bottles.

Meanwhile, Greenpeace is calling on the UK government to fix our plastic crisis in a way that doesn’t harm people – or the planet. In particular, this is in response to plastic from UK households being dumped in other countries as we aren’t able to cope with the extent of our plastic waste in the UK. You can add your voice to this campaign here.

However, I can’t stress how important it is to be mindful of campaigns around plastic. Calls to outright ban certain plastic products are not helpful and can be discriminatory. Disabled people often rely on plastic items, such as straws, plastic-wrapped baby wipes, or prepared vegetables in plastic bags. It’s therefore important to foster inclusiveness in our messaging.

Are you taking part in plastic-free July?  If so, do share with Moral Fibres readers your top plastic-free tips, what hurdles you’ve encountered, or any other useful advice!