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How are Sneakers Recycled?

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  • Written By: Devon Pryor
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 11 November 2016
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The comfort of sneakers and athletic shoes is appreciated the world over. For this reason, hundreds of pairs of sneakers are constantly being worn down to the tread. Not to mention that, due to their worldwide popularity, sneakers are often worn as a fashion shoe, and may be discarded and replaced when fashions change. Since sneakers are made, for the most part, of rubber and other synthetic materials, the discarding of these shoes can create a high volume of non-biodegradable waste.

Although many pairs of sneakers will eventually end up in landfills, it is possible to reuse or recycle these shoes. There are a number of programs that offer help with or perform the recycling of athletic shoes, tennis shoes, and other types of sneakers. In general, the rubber sole of a sneaker is the most obviously recyclable part of the shoe. However, leather and synthetic uppers can also be recycled.

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There are certain parts of a sneaker that cannot be recycled, and usually need to be removed before the recycling process can begin. The metal eyelets that are used to reinforce holes for shoelaces, for example, must be removed before recycling. Cleats and spikes should also be removed from shoes, along with any other metal parts. Some sneakers or other types of athletic shoes contain lights or strips of reflective material that should also be removed before recycling. In addition, the shoes should be dry and clean so as not to pollute the material during the recycling process.

The most common process by which sneakers are recycled is by grinding them up to make a new material. This may mean grinding up all the recyclable material together, including rubber, leather, and other synthetic material to make a pliable foam or rubber-like substance. On the other hand, the rubber parts of the shoe may be ground up separately to make a new rubber. Along the way, the ground material will likely be filtered to remove impurities, resulting in a more high quality product.

The end product of recycled sneakers is a synthetic material which, depending on its malleability, may be used as a surface in synthetic sports fields, tennis courts, athletic tracks, and other sport or gymnasium ground surfaces. This seems a fitting end for a shoe that was likely worn out on just such a surface. Another use for the material made from recycled sneakers is the protective surface used to cover pavement and other hard surfaces in playgrounds. The rubbery semi-soft material helps to prevent injury that might otherwise be incurred when a child runs into a metal bar of a jungle gym, or falls to the ground.

Those who are interested in recycling their sneakers can easily find information on the Internet. Local public works groups that organize sneaker-recycling events may be located nearby one’s home, and often work in association with larger companies that have the means for large-scale recycling programs. Shoes that are still wearable can be donated to charity. Often, sneakers can be repaired and reused, either by the original owner or by someone else. In any case, there are a number of ways to dispose of used sneakers aside from simply throwing them away.

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