Runners often wonder what to do with their shoes once the treads have worn too low to give enough foot support. People who have donated old shoes to charities or thrown them away have a new option now… a “sneaker recycling program.” As part of an ongoing series called “Your Choice; Your Planet,” the Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Skye Rohde reports:
Runners often wonder what to do with their shoes once the treads have worn too low to
give enough foot support. People who have donated old shoes to charities or thrown
them away have a new option now… a “sneaker recycling program.” As part of an
ongoing series called, “Your Choice; Your Planet,” the Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s
Skye Rohde reports:
David Lupinski wants old running shoes, no matter how smelly they are. They just need
to be clean.
Lupinski is the recycling director at the Oneida-Herkimer Solid Waste Management
authority in Utica, in upstate New York. He’s collecting used athletic shoes as part of the
Nike Reuse-A-Shoe program.
Now, this got my attention. I’ve been running for 11 years. I’m a one-pair-a-year girl.
I’ve sent way too many worn-out shoes to the Salvation Army… just because I didn’t
know what else to do with them. I wanted to find out what this is all about.
Nike picks up the shoes from participants like Lupinski and sends them to a facility in
Oregon where they’re ground up. David Lupinski explains it best.
“The upper area, that’s material that is more cloth and things like that. And that’s what
they make into padding for carpeting. The middle sole has a little bit more plastic, a little
bit more rubber in it. They grind that up and they make it into a material that they use for
things like tennis courts, basketball courts. The bottom of the sneaker or athletic shoe is
pretty much all rubber. They grind that up and they actually make a product that they call
“Nike grind.” And that material is what they use for tracks. It’s nice and soft and
The shoe program is a good fit for Utica. That’s because of the city’s ties to running. The
National Distance Running Hall of Fame is located here, and the country’s biggest 15-
kilometer road race – the Boilermaker – is held here every July.
But Utica is not alone. There are 33 organizations from 20 states participating in Reuse-
A-Shoe. Each of them is expected to collect at least 5,000 pairs of shoes this year.
This all started in 1993, when a couple of Nike employees asked if there was anything
they could do with defective shoes instead of throwing them out.
Nike joined up with the National Recycling Coalition in 2002 to expand the program to
all 50 states. Kate Krebs is Executive Director of the coalition.
“I liked it for a number of reasons. It was a company that was taking back their product
at its end of life and turning it into something that was really productive and really cool.”
Krebs has helped almost 60 organizations try to team up with Nike, and there’s already a
waiting list to participate. She says the participants are creative about collecting shoes
“We just had a girl scout troop in Los Angeles on Earth Day collect more than 5,000
pairs of shoes in one day. Some zoos have set it up. Some marathons have set up
collection. Junior high/high school track programs are collecting. So everyone’s doing it
a little different… and that’s the part that’s so magic about it.”
Back in Utica, Dorothy Cornell is dropping off a few pairs of shoes at the National
Distance Running Hall of Fame.
“I just put in three sneakers that I found in my basement that are no good to me or my
family. And they’re doing a recycling here, so we’re bringing them down here. It’s, you
know, a great idea. I wish more people would, you know, be aware of it.”
A little later, the Solid Waste Management Authority’s David Lupinski peers inside the
donation box at the Hall of Fame.
(rustling sound… “Geez, this is a bag of athletic shoes…”)
He finds six pairs of shoes, including two fluorescent orange track shoes that are almost
brand new. He says he picks up about 40 pairs of shoes a week from this box. There are
seven other donation boxes around the area.
Lupinski has almost 800 pairs of shoes now, but he still has a long way to go before he
gets his 5,000 pairs and Nike sends a truck to pick them up. People have called him from
across upstate New York to see how they can get their old shoes to him.
Reuse-A-Shoe participants are all hoping for lots of shoes. But they also want to spread
the word and get people as excited as they are about giving old shoes new life.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, this is Skye Rohde.