top of page
  • Writer's pictureMichaela A de Guire

How does one sustainably toss shoes?

Updated: Apr 16, 2023

First of all, let's get one thing straight. There is no such thing as sustainably tossing shoes. When a pair of shoes end up in the landfill they take up to 40 years to begin somewhat decomposing. While the shoes are sitting in the landfill they release volatile organic compounds into the air, groundwater and soil. These compounds are released because the soles of shoes are usually made from ethylene-vinyl acetate.

Hanging shoes
What to do with unwanted shoes?

So, what does one do if not toss the old shoes? Well there are a couple of options, much like any other garment or accessory. You can send the shoes to a recycling company, donate them (if they are not falling to pieces quite yet), give them to a friend, or upcycle.


There are some companies out there working to recycle footwear, sorting plastic, from foam, leather, and cotton, among other fibers and materials. However, as with fast fashion, shoes are purchased and tossed too rapidly for companies to stay caught up with the rate at which the merchandise is being consumed, thus, some shoes are bound to find their way to a landfill.

Sneaker on rocks
While the shoes are sitting in the landfill they release volatile organic compounds into the air, groundwater and soil.

A recycling company known as Terracycle, is working on recycling lots of different things such as food packaging, cosmetic packaging, toothbrushes, and so much more. They have partnered up with a number of brands to recycle many sorts of goods, including shoes.

It has been said that we (as the consumers) purchase a new pair of shoes every seven weeks. I don’t know if this is true for you, maybe as a mom that makes sense, with little ones to purchase for as well as yourself. However, at the moment it is just me and the last time I purchased a pair of shoes was 14 months ago. The last time I had a pair fixed was about 24 months ago, and I have two pairs ready to visit my cobbler, now getting them there is the struggle.

Repair (or upcycle)

Cobbler working on a shoe mold.
Cobbler can work big magic if you give them the opportunity.

Cobblers can work some big magic, I am not joking. I did not realize everything a cobbler can do, until I myself took a pair of boots to visit a cobbler. They can mend a shoe that is so worn it looks like it's at death's door and make it into a whole new shoe! They can color, clean, replace and adjust the shoe to your liking. Some will even do leather stretching to help the shoe fit better. Others will mend soles, heels, laces, seams, and so much more.

When a pair of shoes are looking old to you, and you're still interested in wearing them, rather than going out to get a new set, why not take them to your local cobbler? If you don’t have someone local, there are online ones around, and see what they say they can do to mend your shoes. And, then do what few would, and give 'em a shot, let' em work their magic (because it is magic).


Another option would be to donate your shoes, before you toss them, there could be a wee bit more life to them, so don’t throw them away for eternity, but offer them a chance with someone else. You never know, maybe they will be that person's only pair of shoes for a very long time. You don't have to only donate to your local secondhand shop, you can either go through a company such as Shoes4Souls or Reuse a shoe. These are both companies that mend and repair and clean shoes before sending them along to a place where people need shoes.

Vintage shoes.
Do what you can and care for what you have now, that is the most sustainable way.

I understand the struggle if you live in a rural area or a smaller town. You might not find a shoe recycling bin near you. But you can do your best by either mending and using a wee bit longer or donating your shoes to someone else. Whatever you do, think twice before you toss your shoes into the trash bin.

Of course, the most sustainable thing you can do is make the most out of what you already own. So, do your part and mend and donate that footwear you no longer have a need for.


bottom of page