From Worn In to Worn Out: What To Do With Old ShoesImage by Sustainable Jungle#whattodowitholdshoes #whattodowitholdwonroutshoes #ideasforoldshoes #sustainablejungle
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From Worn In to Worn Out: What To Do With Old Shoes

Jenny Bell

You finally get them there. A pair of newly broken-in boots perfectly molded to the contours of your foot—it’s like you’re walking on air. 

But suddenly, like Cinderella (sort of), your beloved pair transitions to nothing more than some old shoes, and you get that itch to buy more. 

Sound familiar?

With around 22 billion pairs of shoes heading to landfill each year, it turns out it’s not just Carrie Bradshaw with a shoe problem. 

Maybe they get worn down, or you just get sick of them. Whatever the case, there’s no reason to leave them languishing on the shelf or chuck them in the trash—where they could spend up to four decades breaking down.

So what’s the responsible answer to the age-old problem of what to do with old shoes?

While there isn’t a sole solution, if you tighten your laces, we’ll run you through the options.

To learn more about why it’s essential to dispose of shoes responsibly, head to the foot of the article.

1. Donate Old Shoes

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Image by Sustainable Jungle

Donating can seem like the easy solution when you’re trying to figure out what to do with old, beat-up shoes, but check the shoes thoroughly before you drop them off. 

If they have a hole, are missing a sole, or look otherwise past their useful life, the odds are high that any thrift store will trash them. Goodwill had to send out a plea begging people to stop “donating” their trash. 

If you can’t picture another person wearing the shoes or if they need serious repairs to be functional, don’t make them a thrift store or charity organization’s problem. 

And if your shoes still have life in them, clean them up before donating them so that organizations will have an easier time finding a new owner. 

Is donating shoes worth it?

It’s a fair question, considering an estimated 90% of donated items don’t get resold. 

When deciding where to donate old shoes, consider a more specialized charity like Soles4Souls, which focuses on diverting new and gently used shoes and clothes from landfill to people who need them most. 

Bottom line: If you’re parting with a pair of shoes because you’re tired of them or they don’t fit your style or feet, donating them to a charity or thrift store can give them a second life. 

But if you’re trying to figure out what to do with broken shoes, save your local organization the hassle of trashing your old shoes and keep reading for a better fit.

2. Sell Old Shoes Online

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Image by Sustainable Jungle

Wondering what to do with an old pair of shoes that you just don’t love anymore? Or those running shoes that you didn’t wear much because they rubbed in the wrong place? 

If your shoes are in good shape, donating them isn’t your only option. You could also turn them into a buck or two for yourself.

Eco and budget-conscious shoppers are increasingly turning to platforms to sell clothes online and to snag items they want. If you take advantage, you know your old kicks are going somewhere wanted. 

Of course, this option is better for dress shoes or like-new athletic shoes than for your worn-down running shoes.

Selling them on is also a good option if you’re wondering what to do with old kids’ shoes. Kids’ feet grow so quickly that they may only have been worn a few times. 

3. Repair Old Shoes

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Image by bodu9

If the issue is the shoe’s wear, not its style, consider getting it repaired. You might be surprised at how much a cobbler can do. 

Generally, shoe-fixing professionals can repair:

  • High heels
  • Loafers
  • Flats
  • Dress boots
  • Work boots
  • Some running shoes
  • Sandals

This gets especially handy if you’re considering parting with the shoe because of a bad fit. If it pinches your toes or rubs at your heel, a cobbler may be able to stretch or otherwise modify it to give you a better fit (depending on the material). 

Finding a local cobbler is ideal, but if you don’t have access to one nearby, online clothes repair services are available.

Alternatively, some repairable shoe brands offer repair services for shoes they made, such as:

You generally need to have purchased a shoe from the specific brand to take advantage of their repair offering, so keep this in mind when shopping for new shoes. 

If you didn’t think that far ahead when you bought your shoes a few years ago, and your local cobbler can’t help, keep solediering on below.

4. Swap With Friends

From Worn In to Worn Out: What To Do With Old Shoes Image by Hana Brannigan #whattodowitholdshoes #whattodowitholdwonroutshoes #ideasforoldshoes #sustainablejungle
Image by Hana Brannigan

As you’re figuring out what to do with old shoes, start asking friends about their shoe sizes. Maybe even keep a note in your phone of friends with similarly sized feet. 

Once you have a few old pairs you’re tired of wearing, organize a shoe swap. 

Tell people to bring their running shoes, boots, dress shoes, flats—anything they’ve got lying around. Those shoes you’re sick of might be the perfect fit for a friend’s wardrobe update. 

And since everyone’s will hopefully be at least gently used, you don’t have to worry about breaking in a new pair.

5. Upcycle Old Shoes

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Image by jkootek

It’s time to get creative when considering what to do with worn-out shoes. 

What could you turn them into that’s (almost) as functional as footwear?

Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Fill an old boot with stones or sand to make a doorstop. 
  • Virtually any shoe can be a planter (i.e., a rain boot for herbs, a flat for a succulent garden)
  • Worn-out sneakers or running shoes can be made into a quick birdhouse by nailing the sole to a tree and dropping some birdseed in the toe. 

As with any upcycled clothing project, creativity is key. 

Look at your specific pair of shoes. If you like the look of the whole shoe, that can spin off into a myriad of projects. 

If not, evaluate how you could use the materials in the shoe if you deconstructed it. You might find the perfect materials for your next project.

6. Downcycle Old Shoes

From Worn In to Worn Out: What To Do With Old Shoes Image by Bianca Marie Arreola #whattodowitholdshoes #whattodowitholdwonroutshoes #ideasforoldshoes #sustainablejungle
Image by Bianca Marie Arreola

Need supplies for an art project? If you took apart your old shoes, how could you use the components?

It might feel crazy to cut into what was once a perfectly good pair of shoes, but if they’re now past their useful life, this option can be better for the planet—and your craft supply budget. 

Here are a few ideas to get your wheels turning:

  • Cut up the foam from flip-flops and the soles of running shoes to make coasters
  • Reuse laces as sturdy ties around the house or as ribbons for gift wrap. 

Strip leather from leather boots and shoes to cover a journal, make a keychain, create a phone case—you get the idea.

7. How To Recycle Old Shoes

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Image by Sustainable Jungle

What do you do with old shoes that cannot be donated, upcycled, or otherwise given a second life? 

Before you trash them, think: recycling.

But where to recycle old shoes, you ask?

To start, check with the shoe’s manufacturer to see if they have a return-and-recycle program. Giving the shoe straight back to the brand gives it the best chance of being recycled efficiently (possibly into a new pair of shoes to boot).

Here are some ethical shoe brands that offer closed-loop shoe recycling programs:

  • On’s subscription-based Cyclon™ program
  • VEJA stores accept old shoes for recycling.
  • Thousand Fell rewards you with store credit when you return their old kicks to them.
  • The Virtuous Circle Program by Nothing New offers $20 off a new pair for recycling your old ones. 
  • Nike stores accept any brand of athletic shoes to break down and reuse in future pairs of Nikes or in surfacing for playgrounds, tracks, and more. 
  • Native Shoes take-back their own used shoes for donating, recycling, and material repurposing. 

Beyond shoe manufacturers, TerraCycle offers a Zero Waste Box just for shoes. Purchase it, and you can send them as many old shoes (regardless of condition) as you can fit in the box. 

Simple Recycling offers a free home pick-up for clothing and shoes donations. Those that can’t be rehomed are recycled for their materials. 

American Textile Recycling Service operates donation bins across the country.

8. Compost Old Cotton, Hemp, & Bamboo Shoes

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Image by RobertPetrovic

This one can get tricky, but if you know the brand of shoe you’re working with, you can probably find the information you need to determine whether it will work.

For a shoe to be compostable, it needs to be made entirely of natural materials that will break down. That seems obvious, right? 

You might not consider how the shoe is held together, though. If it’s bound by specific types of glue or some synthetic material, it can’t be composted.

That means your running shoes and high heels probably aren’t a candidate here. 

But if you have single-material options—like all-wool sustainable slippers from Baabuk or Nootkas—you can possibly make this work. 

Some shoes may be mostly single material but may have a rubber sole. While rubber is natural and biodegradable, it won’t break down quickly enough in a home composter, so in this case, remove the outsole with a pair of pliars.

Check with the manufacturer. AURA QUE, for example, says their felted wool slippers can be composted once you remove the thread. 

While it might not help you with the old shoes you have on hand now, knowing you can buy shoes designed to be composted can help next time you’re shoe shopping. 

We hope to see more compostable shoes on the market as more brands consider sustainable end-of-life options for their shoes. 

Brands like Rawganique and BLUEVIEW already make 100% biodegradable shoes, and Vivobarefoot is developing a made-to-order, 3D printed, recyclable, and compostable shoe.

9. How to Dispose of Old Shoes Responsibly

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Image by ozgurdonmaz

Still wondering what to do with old, mismatched shoes? Or what to do with shoes with holes? 

Can you put shoes in the recycle bin?

No. It might feel wrong, but putting your completely worn-out shoes in the trash bin is a more responsible way of disposing of them than putting them in the recycling bin. 

Because most shoes are created from several materials melded together, standard recycling facilities aren’t equipped to handle them. 

Tossing them in the recycling bin qualifies as wishcycling: a well-intentioned behavior that hampers effective recycling processes. Such contamination may lead to entire bins of otherwise perfectly recyclable goods being thrown away.

If you’ve exhausted all other options, the best way to dispose of them is to put them straight in the trash. Resort to this option only as a last resort.

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Why You Should Responsibly Dispose of Old Shoes

Most of these options for what to do with old shoes require time and effort, which begs the question: is it all worth it?


In the 60 years that the EPA has been tracking clothing and footwear waste, the amount being landfilled has skyrocketed—from 2 million tons in 1980 to 9 million tons in 2018. 

Between fast fashion and quickly evolving tech in the world of running shoes, we buy new shoes all the time and dispose of them at an equally alarming rate. 

You can help reduce these numbers by first considering sustainability—both how they’re made and how they’ll last—when shopping for new shoes like:

That doesn’t solve the problem of the old shoes you’ve already got hanging around, though. For each pair you want to part with, review the options on your list. 

What works for one set of shoes might not work for another, but you now have a full spectrum of solutions to help you responsibly dispose of old shoes.

Final Thoughts On What To Do With Old Shoes

For the Carrie Bradshaws of the world, shoes are life. For others, shoes are a function. 

Whatever shoes are to you, they’re an essential part of your wardrobe. 

But they also play an unfortunate role in filling our landfills.

To do your part in minimizing the decades-long landfill ramifications here, find the best option for your old shoes—and while you’re at it, your old clothes, old bras and underwear, old Tupperware, old jeans and old pillows—so you can responsibly send them off into the sunset.

If you know a shoe-aholic, share these solutions with them so they, too, can be inspired to point their toes toward sustainability. 

And who knows, if you’re the same shoe size, you might benefit from the shoe swap they’re going to plan!

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From Worn In to Worn Out: What To Do With Old Shoes Image by Sustainable Jungle #whattodowitholdshoes #whattodowitholdwonroutshoes #ideasforoldshoes #sustainablejungle
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