The shoe waste epidemic

man and pileHow many pairs of shoes are in your closet? 10? 20? More?

We buy a lot of shoes—enough to fill more than a few closets. It’s estimated that 20 billion pairs of shoes are produced annually, and unfortunately, roughly 300 million pairs are thrown away each year, too.

Like clothing waste, shoe waste occurs entirely too much and is 100 percent avoidable. The shoe manufacturing process is a chemical-intensive process. Ethylene Vinyl Acetate, a material commonly found in the midsole of running shoes, can last for as long as 1,000 years in a landfill. When considering the sheer volume of shoe waste, it’s environmentally irresponsible to toss shoes in a landfill where they’ll impact the planet for centuries.


Shoes, like clothing, need not be thrown away regardless of what condition they are in. Many shoe consumers, especially competitive runners, have no use for shoes once the sole begins to wear down, but just because a shoe is no longer fit for marathon running doesn’t mean it can’t be worn for regular, everyday use. Shoe reuse programs exist in most areas, like Re-Use Your Shoes, a shoe drop box program in Pennsylvania, or of course, USAgain collection programs across the U.S.


Even the so-called “worst of the worst,” the shoes that are worn so badly that they no longer resemble shoes, can have a second life. Nike’s Reuse-A-Shoe initiative is a solution to responsibly disposing of such shoes. Nike uses large-scale shoe drives and localized drop-offs to collect shoes and send them to facilities in Tennessee and Belgium, where, as Nike says, they are put “back into the game.” These facilities specialize in recycling old shoes into surfacing material for playground indoor tracks. Yes, it’s entirely possible that your old track shoes will be reincarnated in the form of an actual track.

REI says that as a rule of thumb, a pair of walking or running shoes can last for up to 500 miles. Of course, competitive athletes go through shoes much more quickly than this, which is understandable, but it is unacceptable to trash a pair of shoes even if you’re a world-class runner who can afford a thousand pairs.

Given the running community’s propensity for going through shoes, we at USAgain have decided it’s essential to show runners the importance of recycling their shoes. To achieve this, we’ve partnered with Warrior Dash to recycle shoes at their 2013 races in the contiguous U.S. We’ve collected thousands of pounds of shoes so far and are looking forward to collecting more—even the dirtiest, muddiest pairs.

We can’t fix the problem of shoe waste single-handedly. Next time you look at your closet full of shoes, don’t view the old ones as trash; give them a second life on someone else’s feet or as a running track surface, but don’t let them become a statistic. The 300 million pairs of shoes thrown away annually don’t need company.


5 thoughts on “The shoe waste epidemic

  1. Pingback: Spring Cleaning Greening « USAgain Minneapolis

  2. Aloha,

    I am unsure of this math.

    If 20,000,000,000 pairs of shoes are made each year how are only 300,000,000 pair are tossed out? That means that 1 out of every 66 pairs are thrown away ???? Where do the other 65 pairs go??

    Let’s get some real numbers on this problem so we can start making serious solutions for it.

    Average conumer buys on average 5-7 pairs of shoes a year.
    7 billion people on planet = 20-50 billion pairs of shoes.
    Each pair uses apx 1 cubic liter of landfill space.
    30 billion pairs of shoes will occupy apx 15,000 Olympic sized swimming pools of landfill space or end up floating around and around in our Not-So-Great Pacific Gyre… year afer year after year after year after year…

    If we are called to be stewards of our “Spaceship Earth” we must start building our footwear out of something better and more recycleable than EVA and PU foams and support the companies that do so.

    Respect the Aina!

    Dr. Steven King
    Podiatrist Maui HI
    Managing Member Kingetics LLC

    • Of those 7 billion people surely a large percentage are too poor to buy 5-7 shoes per year, or even per lifetime. 20 billion/7 billion =~ 3 shoes per person. Must be a lot of Imelda Marcus’s skewing that number.

      • Aloha,

        Yes unfortunately many folks cannot afford the expense of multiple shoes and some invest in high quality long life repairable footwear.

        Perhaps 4 pairs per year for 7 billion sets of feet with a total of 28 billion pairs year after year after year…

        Now consider average shoe volume is about 1000cc or one liter. EVA and PU and other foam based shoes take a very very very long time to break down into gue and they will take up to 20,000 Olympic sized swimming pools of good earth garbage space year after year after year…

        Or end up in the Not-So-Great Pacific Gyre to break down into you next tuna on rye.

        Do Pono to Our Aina and Ohana,

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