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Here's a simple way to turn your old sneakers into actual cash: 'I can tell you firsthand — it works'

When you get your check, you'll also receive a sustainability impact report.

Turn your old sneakers into cash with shoe recycling

Photo Credit: iStock

Got extra sneakers? Well, then you could get cash. 

That's right, you could get paid for your old or unwanted sneakers, keep sneakers out of landfills, and maybe even give your shoes new life for someone in need.

I can tell you firsthand –– it works. I organized a small sneaker drive at my children's elementary school and earned just over $20 for our Parent Teacher Organization by sending in a few dozen pairs of sneakers that no one wanted anymore.

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GotSneakers is the for-profit organization that makes it all happen –– its mission is to get shoes to people who need them, reduce environmental waste, and make it rewarding for people like you and me in the process. 

The process is simple: Once you create an account on their website, GotSneakers will send you a free bag with shipping costs covered. At our school, we set up an empty box in the entryway and invited families to drop off any sneakers they didn't need or want anymore, either outgrown or unworn, and in just a week or two we had amassed three big bags of sneakers. Only sneakers are accepted.

After dropping them at FedEx, the sneakers are shipped to a warehouse in Miami, where they're hand-sorted into shoes that can be sold as exports to other countries, primarily in Central or South America, or else recycled. For the sneakers that, as they say, "should go to sneaker heaven," those get processed through waste to energy –– which GotSneakers says is less than 5% of the donations received. 

How much money will you make? Well, that depends on the quality of the sneakers. You'll get more for ones in better condition (like the ones your kids have outgrown, or styles you bought and never wore). In our case, we sent in 42 pairs, most of which were in "fair" or "recyclable" condition (not "excellent" or "good"), and we received $20.50.

When you get your check, you'll also receive a sustainability impact report –– in our case, we displaced 1,260 pounds of carbon dioxide and saved 94,794 gallons of water, according to GotSneakers' calculations. 

The company was started by two friends in Miami who wanted to tap into the opportunity they saw in textile recycling, with the huge need around the world for shoes.

"The life of a sneaker is far beyond what we give it credit for," said Denise Blomberg, Director of Strategic Partnerships for GotSneakers. "Everybody has sneakers, so it's not like we're asking you to buy something –– you're doing good while doing something good for the environment," she told The Cool Down. "Shipping's free. Everything about us is free. So it's a no-brainer."

At least 200 million pairs of shoes and sneakers end up in landfills each year, where they can take 30 to 40 years to decompose. Sneakers are made with materials that are often not biodegradable, and when they remain in landfills or are incinerated, harmful chemicals go into the soil and air, which creates pollution. Meanwhile, GotSneakers says there are hundreds of millions of people worldwide who don't even own a pair of shoes. Since the company started, GotSneakers says it's stopped 75 million pounds of carbon pollution from entering the atmosphere, and recycled and reused 2.5 million pairs of shoes and counting.

While the $20 we raised in our first sneaker drive isn't a huge amount of money, our school plans to make the sneaker collection an ongoing campaign throughout the year, raising far more money for our nonprofit. Cash aside, diverting sneakers from the landfill and helping people in need is incentive enough.

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