Nearly 1.5 million tons of waste is created manufacturing new footwear each year, and this doesn’t include the used shoes and boots being thrown into landfills by the second. Modern shoe manufacturing and leather tanning is one of the most dirty, toxic, and environmentally unsustainable processes on the planet.
Shoe Manufacturing & Waste by the Numbers
Almost 4 times more shoes are made each year than there are people on earth. That’s over 24 billion pairs for 7+ billion people. Over 2 billion of these are sold each year in the U.S. alone, meaning that’s about 7 new pairs of shoes per person every single year, most likely ending up in the backs of closets or in the trash due to wear or disinterest.
300 million pairs of shoes are thrown out each year by Americans, according to the US Department of the Interior. This number was reported over a decade ago and is likely much, much higher today.
Sadly, only 15% of shoes are being recycled each year, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. That means 85% end up in landfills, and with most shoes not being biodegradable—with some materials like some sneaker soles taking 1,000 years to decompose—that’s filling our planet with globs of unnecessary garbage.
The Environmental Impact of Shoe Manufacturing
The impact of the mass production of shoes to our environment is huge. The massive amount of plastics and rubber waste, dangerous chemicals used for dyeing and processing that feed into our landfills leech into our soil and water sources, as well as pollutants and greenhouse gasses are becoming a big concern for global health. This doesn’t take into account the large machinery and energy (mainly fossil fuels) required to run shoe factories.
It’s simply become far too easy to toss a worn pair of shoes into the garbage and buy a new cheap (and cheaply-made) pair to replace them. By grossly devaluing footwear to be “disposable”, many people don’t stop to think how this affects another hugely precious resource—animal life.
According to Carroll Kelly, expert cobbler and owner of the Shoe Hospital family of companies, “it takes the skin from 2-3 different animals to make one brand-new pair of shoes, as the sole, upper, and lining of a shoe are each made from different skins.”
We can all help to change this, and its our responsibility to do so.
How Can We Prevent Shoe Waste?
Choose shoe repair! Cobblers Direct online shoe and boot repair by mail is on a mission to challenge all humans to buy well-made, eco-responsibly manufactured shoes and boots that can be repaired by skilled cobblers. Shoes can (and should) last for a lifetime if properly cared for. Talented cobblers can re-craft and re-store even the most severely damaged shoes and get them back on your feet for more life.
Should you have shoes you no longer want to keep, please consider recycling. Many groups accept shoe donations.
How Can I Recycle My Shoes and Boots?
If you’ve damaged your shoes beyond repair or have lost interest in their unique style, there are many ways you can give them a new life—and help people along the way. For more on shoe recycling, please check out these fantastic organizations and brand programs below.
Soles4Souls is on a mission to turn unwanted shoes and clothing into opportunity, by keeping them from becoming waste and putting them to use for relief, job creation, and to empower people to break the cycle of poverty.
Salvation Army accepts donations of shoes and goods that are then sold at Salvation Army Family Stores to help fund rehabilitation programs that heal addictions, change lives, and restore families.
Goodwill accepts donations of shoes and goods to sell at their stores to support training and support services for people with disabilities or disadvantages who seek greater independence. They accept new and gently worn shoes to re-sell and will also recycle old shoes.
Nike Reuse-a-Shoe Program recycles shoes at the ends of their lives through their service Nike Grind. Just drop your used shoes at a participating Nike store for recycling.
When donating shoes, please remember to attach your shoes together by the laces or rubber band! The number one reason donated shoes end up as waste is because the pair got separated in transit.