Shoe collection project aims to bring Nike back, help landfill

Americans buy 2.3 million pairs of shoes every day. Three million pounds of that goes into our landfills nationally per year.

It takes 500 to 1,000 years for synthetic shoe materials to be absorbed in a landfill given ideal conditions. Synthetic shoe materials include chemicals, acids, carbon monoxide, zinc and lead. Other parts of the shoes include petroleum-based products like nylon or polyester. The various chemicals used to treat conventional cotton in the shoes pollute ground and surface water.

The population of Maui is 144,400. Conservatively, if each person is buying two pairs of shoes a year, then an estimated 288,800 pairs of shoes are being bought on Maui each year. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that 85 percent will go into a landfill annually. With an 85 percent landfill factor, and at two pounds per pair of shoes, that translates into 490,960 pounds of shoe waste each year, a total of 245 tons.

In 2009, If The Shoe Fits in Wailuku joined the solid waste division of Maui County in a pilot program that collaborated with Nike’s reusea-shoe program, which collects sneakers, processes and converts the materials into sporting equipment such as basketball courts and running tracks and donates them back to the community. The program was dropped on Maui by Nike for a couple of reasons: Not enough shoes were collected fast enough, and Alaska and Hawaii were both dropped due to the cost of shipping.

The program might have stopped on Maui, but the community didn’t. Shoes kept coming. If The Shoe Fits receives donations on a near-daily basis from all walks of life. The Maui Fire Department and the Army Reserves have dropped off boxes of sneakers at a time. It is not unusual to find shoes left on the doorstep of the Wailuku shop overnight. It is not a trend I feel like stopping. Thirty-six hundred pairs of shoes have been donated to If The Shoe Fits since the program’s inception. The distribution is handled by Big Brothers Big Sisters of Maui, which then collects a percentage of sales from the shoes to help fund its Maui programs.

If The Shoe Fits is launching a large-scale landfill diversion campaign for 2013. I hope to collect 12,000 pairs in the first year with the intention of bringing Nike back. Why bring Nike back? It has the most aggressive closed-loop manufacturing strategy of all shoe manufacturers.

I built my own shoe manufacturing business plan around Nike’s, and I see a future industry for Maui based on shoes. This includes, but is not limited to, making, repurposing and refurbishing shoes that would otherwise be dumped. If the program is reinstated by Nike, my plan is to donate the new sports equipment to the park in Happy Valley.

Nike is only one of many programs available in the USA whose mission is landfill diversion. Soles 4 Soles and Green Sneaker have also been sponsoring shoe drives across the country. The shoes are given to others in need or processed in an environmentally sustainable fashion. It is a trend that is no longer a choice but a necessity. There is no need for shoeless individuals in our community. Be inspired. Help save our planet. It’s easy.

The shoe drive is under way now at If The Shoe Fits.

* Teri Edmonds opened If The Shoe Fits in Wailuku in 2001. She also has her own shoe line, Hot Biskit Hawaii, owns Testers Shoe Repair, has been manufacturing shoes on Maui since 2007 and opened Maui Shoe Academy in 2010.