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Save Your Old Shoes From The Landfill—And Recycle Them For Free

Yoga Journal's parent company, Outside, has partnered with the nonprofit Sole4Souls for a large-scale shoe drive. Here's how to get involved.

Get full access to Outside Learn, our online education hub featuring in-depth yoga, fitness, & nutrition courses, when you sign up for Outside+.

You may be accustomed to recycling or repurposing old yoga mats and props, but have you taken a look at your shoe closet lately? The rubber soles on an old pair of kicks can take up to 80 years to decompose, and many shoes are manufactured with toxic chemicals, meaning they pile up in landfills and produce harmful emissions if incinerated. In the spirit of ahimsa, donating your old shoes is the most reliable method of keeping them out of landfills and into the hands of people who can either use them or recycle them for you.

This month, in honor of Earth Day, Outside (our parent company) has launched a large-scale shoe drive in cooperation with Tennessee-based organization Soles4Souls to help fix the problem. Headquartered in Nashville, Soles4Souls accepts donations of used shoes and clothing across the U.S., repurposing those products to supply micro-enterprises, disaster relief programs, and direct-assistance efforts all over the world. In other words, the group not only saves textiles from the landfill, it helps people in need by repurposing shoes for good causes.

How Outside’s shoe drive works

The process for donating shoes is simple. Just navigate to Outside’s campaign page hosted on the Soles4Souls website and follow three steps:

  1. Print and fill out a donor form.
  2. Box up your shoes with the completed donor form.
  3. Print a free shipping label, courtesy of Soles4Souls’ partnership with Zappos, and drop the box in the mail.

To print out the Zappos label, you’ll need to sign in with your Zappos account, or an Amazon or Gmail account if you prefer.

Shoes can be of any kind, other than highly technical footwear like rock climbing shoes and ski boots. Donors can ship up to 50 pounds of shoes per box, with no limit on the number of boxes sent.

Children wearing new shoes donated by Soles4Souls jump in the air
Photo: Courtesy of Soles4Souls

Why shoes?

Simply put, shoes and other textiles are a problem for the planet if not disposed of properly.

“On average, Americans throw away 70 pounds of textiles per person, per year,” Soles4Souls’ website reads. “That adds up to 21 billion pounds of unnecessary waste added to our landfills. The EPA estimates that only 15 percent of clothing and footwear in the U.S. is recycled, leaving the remaining 85 percent in our landfills.”

To solve the problem, the group says it focuses on recycling used gear as well as repurposing it to help those in need around the world: “By putting unwanted shoes to good use, textiles are kept out of landfills. Shoes prevent injuries and illnesses, and they provide dignity to people in need. Micro-entrepreneurs can also sell shoes to build businesses and support their families.”

About Soles4Souls

Since its founding in 2006, Soles4Souls has kept more than 67 million pounds of shoes and clothing out of landfills. Extending the life of a single pair of shoes helps save approximately 30 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions generated by manufacturing a new pair. Plus, Soles4Souls has helped alleviate poverty by fueling small businesses and creating sustainable jobs for vulnerable people in developing countries such as Haiti, Guatemala, and Honduras. 

“We focus on three main program areas to fulfill our mission,” the company says in its promotional materials. First is free distribution: “We distribute new shoes, donated by our corporate partners, to people in need in the U.S. and around the world.” The second focus is micro-enterprise: “We help hard-working entrepreneurs build their own small businesses selling donated shoes.” Finally, impact travel is one of the company’s specialties, achieved through its Global Experiences program: “Traveling on a Soles4Souls Global Experience is a great way to learn new cultures, meet amazing people, and play a hands-on role in distributing shoes to people in need.”

So make your spring cleaning count and celebrate Earth Day by boxing up your old shoes for a good cause. Find everything you need to make a donation here

See also: 

Where to Mindfully Donate Your Once-Loved Items

Look Forward to Spring-Cleaning With These Must-Haves

Yoga Journal‘s First-Ever Green Choice Awards