Shoe Recycling

Posted on July 25, 2019

by Faith S

In one of my previous blog posts, I talked about the ways in which World War II conservation can help us today when looking at the global crisis of pollution, plastic waste in oceans, and global warming. For this article, I found an ad in The Ladies Home Journal discussing the collection of Keds and Kedettes shoes during World War II rubber conservation efforts. The small rubber soled shoes, a favorite of celebrities like Taylor Swift and many Americans today, were collected during the war for the rubber soles on the bottom and the canvas on the top. The materials made to use the shoe were repurposed to make barrage balloons, jungle boots, and many other rubber products. The ad in the journal features a headline of “Where your Keds and Kedettes are going!” This was meant to catch the readers’ eye and inform them that the company that once made Keds was now producing war time materials. And they were encouraging the public to help by taking their worn Keds to local salvage stations to meet demand for scare materials.

Today, looking at the vintage Keds banner, a new question is asked – Where are our Keds and other shoes going after we throw them away? According to, our shoes stay around for a long time after we’ve thrown them away. For a leather shoe it can take 40 to 50 years to decompose and for a rubber soled shoe it can take 50 to 80 years to decompose! While most shoes aren’t made from leather anymore, nor do they have entire rubber bottoms, the synthetic materials used make decomposition take even longer.

So what can be done to help keep shoes out of landfills, on our feet, or in places that can best aid the environment? Nike has launched a program called Nike Grind, its part of a growing effort to reduce their corporate impact on the environment as well as reach out to communities through building sporting equipment with the used products received from consumers. The movement works by people sending in their old pairs of shoes to Nike who then uses the shoes for tracks, playgrounds, astro turf, basketball courts, gyms, carpets, and even athletic clothing and new shoes. While this project is great, the only way to donate is through a Nike retailer and the nearest one to Northwest Ohio is in Detroit. The project is honorable and if you find yourself looking for places to donate your shoes and frequently make trips near Detroit this is an option for you.

Another option is Soles4Souls, this charity takes used shoes and provides them to people in poverty all around the world, giving your shoes a second life. Soles4Souls currently is partnered with DSW and you can find drop off locations at any DSW location such as the one at the Franklin Park Mall. This option keeps your shoes out of a landfill, providing a person in need with a pair of shoes and it’s close to home. There is also the option to ship your shoes for free through a free Zappos account to Sole4Souls from your own home instead of visiting a DSW drop off location. You can print as many labels as you want, leaving the donation possibilities limitless! Another option is to check with other shoe stores in the area like Dave’s Running (they also offer shoe recycling), because you never know until you ask.

If you’re still not sure about giving away your shoes, perhaps upcycling other items in your home can be your chosen way to reduce waste and help save the environment. And the Toledo Lucas County Library has a ton of resources to help you get crafty around the home, but still stay green.


United States Rubber Company. “Where Your Keds and Kedettes Are Going!” The Ladies Home Journal, LX, no. 5, May 1943, p. 77.

Library Materials

Junk genius : stylish ways to repurpose everyday objects, with over 80 projects and ideas / Juliette Goggin, Stacy Sirk
Don't throw it out : [recycle, renew, and reuse to make things last] / Lori Baird and the editors of Yankee Magazine
Upcycling : create beautiful things with the stuff you already have / by Danny Seo ; photographs by Jennifer Levy
Refashioned : cutting-edge clothing from upcycled materials / Sass Brown
The sustainable fashion handbook / Sandy Black

Online Resources

How Long Does It Take for Leather to Decompose?

How to Recycle Shoes, Crayons, Toothbrushes and Other Random Stuff

Go Green Ohio

Featured Image Credit: Image by Mabel Amber from Pixabay.

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