Outworn, outgrown or out of style, old shoes are a fact of life. And unlike easily recycled or repurposed items such as secondhand clothing or empty plastic bottles, no-longer-new footgear poses a dilemma. What exactly is a green-thinking person supposed to do with leftover loafers or rundown runners? Well, depending on their condition, you can take your pick. Restore down-at-heel shoes to a reusable state with a little TLC. Recycle by donating to a good cause. Or, as a last resort, repurpose.
1. To keep your shoes feeling comfortable longer, rotate several pairs. This allows them to dry out between wearings and extends their life. Store in a place with some ventilation – a closet floor or shelf is fine, but a shoe box is too stuffy. If you live in sunny southern California, you might want to just slip off your shoes when you get home and walk barefoot on your floor.
2. Caught in the rain? Resist the temptation to put your soaked leather shoes or boots next to a heater; as well as drying out the leather, this treatment may be harmful to the glue that holds your footwear together.
3. When sneakers or pumps have become a little funky-smelling, slip an unused tea bag -- store brand pekoe will do -- into each one and leave for a few days. Gently hand wash smelly insoles or orthotics with shampoo and dry in the sun.
4. If muddy shoes are the issue, scrape off as much soil as possible. Then scrub Crocs or non-leather running shoes with toothpaste and rinse, or run through a delicate machine wash cycle using cold water. Avoid shoe warp by removing laces to be washed separately. Tie each shoe into an old pillow case and add some towels to the load to protect both your footwear and your washing machine. Air dry away from direct sunlight.
5. Clean leather according to manufacturer’s instructions. Generally it’s advisable to wipe off surface dirt from smooth leather with a soft brush or dry rag, and then go over with a lightly dampened cloth. Use a specially-made brush for suede and nubuck finishes.
6. Resole (you can DIY with the tread from a discarded tire for super strength) or re-heel as necessary – cheaper and more eco-friendly than buying a whole new pair.
7. Donate shoes that longer fit your feet or your fashion sense. Should you be unable to find a local charity that will accept them, try an international aid organization like Soles4Souls, Hope Runs or Shoe4Africa. Footwear should be in reasonable shape, clean and without holes. And if you have a pair of unused insoles to go with the shoes, your donation will be even more helpful.
8. Turn an old shoe or two into a whimsical, trendy planter that might pay tribute to disco-era glitz or offer the contrast of an old army boot. Make sure there is adequate drainage … or use your footwear as cache-pots or vases.
9. Fill still-handsome closed shoes or cowboy boots with sand to convert to easy, instant doorstops or quirky bookends.
10. Use flip flops as the basis for a “salute to summer” door wreath.
11. Flip flops can also be cut up, heated and impressed with interesting textured objects to craft uniquely artistic ink stamps.
12. Shoes that are truly on their last legs (pun intended!) may be recycled for their materials. Nike runs a Reuse-a-Shoe recycling program; drop off up to 10 pairs at their stores. The Innovative Manufacturing and Construction Research Centre at England’s Loughborough University is researching new recycling processes that will make salvaging old shoes even more feasible in the future.
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