South-metro drive for shoes finds tons of relief

  • Article by: LAURIE BLAKE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 2, 2012 - 6:13 PM

A recycling drive is projected to bring in literally tons of donated shoes. Still-wearable pairs will go to people who need them or will be recycled into raw materials.

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Cornellio Gaviian (left, back to camera), Warehouse Manager Anthony Gasper and Ross Holland of USAgain place donated shoes into white bags to be shipped later at the USAgain recycling plant in New Brighton Tuesday. It’s all part of an effort to keep shoes out of landfills.

Photo: Joel Koyama, Star Tribune

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Castoff shoes have a destination and a purpose in Apple Valley, Eagan and Burnsville.

In a followup to previous hugely successful tri-city shoe recycling drives, footwear of any style and condition will be collected Nov. 12 through Nov. 18 to be worn again or to be used as raw material for new uses.

Last year, residents of the three communities turned in 2.4 tons of shoes otherwise bound for landfills, said Leigh Behrens, recycling coordinator for the cities.

In 2010, the total collected was close to 4 tons. "We get so much volume," Behrens said. "We are well aware that people will save their shoes year round and bring them specifically for this event every year."

Keeping shoes out of landfills hits "especially close to home for people who live in Burnsville since we do have a landfill that is located in Burnsville," Behrens said. "Anything we can divert from the landfill is going to be a positive for the community." In the week starting Nov. 12, shoe donations may be dropped around the clock at the Apple Valley Community Center at 14603 Hayes Road and the Burnsville Ice Center, 251 Civic Center Pkwy., and from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. at the Eagan Civic Arena, 3870 Pilot Knob Road. The shoes should be dry and relatively free of dirt and mud.

The shoe drive is held in November to observe America Recycles Day on Nov. 15, Behrens said.

Cities around the metro area are working to increase recycling. In the past year, garbage haulers in Eagan, Burnsville and Apple Valley have all begun offering single-sort curbside recycling pickup in the hope that residents will recycle more cans, bottles, glass, plastic and paper if they can throw everything in one bin.

Dakota County's overall goal is for county residents to recycle 47 to 51 percent of their waste by 2020, according to the county's solid waste master plan adopted this year.

In 2010, the most recent year for which a figure is available, the county recycled about 45 percent of its waste.

To increase recycling, the county has adopted short- and long-term strategies, including working with businesses, schools and multiple-family housing developments to encourage them to recycle.

The shoe drive was started in 2005 to prompt people to think about waste and where things go when they're discarded, Behrens said.

The success of the shoe drive indicates that focusing on a specific item can entice people to recycle more, Behrens said. Efforts to recycle holiday lights have had similar success.

The idea for shoe recycling came from Nike, the athletic shoe company.

Taking strictly athletic shoes, Nike recycled the rubber into running tracks, weight room floors and indoor basketball and tennis courts.

When Nike ended its program, the three cities continued the shoe drive through another source, USAgain, a recycler operating in 17 states for both shoes and clothes.

Greg Nelson, division manager for USAgain, said the company sells donated shoes and clothes to secondhand stores to meet a high demand for used clothes and shoes in the United States and around the world.

If the shoes are reusable, somebody will wear them again. If not, they are ground down into fibers that can be made into carpet, carpet padding, insulation for cars and other things.

Glass, cans, paper and plastic are routinely collected for recycling at the curb in front of people's homes. But because clothes and shoes are not widely picked up by curbside recyclers, most people throw old clothes and shoes away, Nelson said.

According to Environmental Protection Agency statistics for 2011, only 15 percent of clothes and shoes were recycled and 85 percent went into landfills, he said.

Aside from special events like the shoe drive, USAgain has 2,000 bins in high-traffic areas in Minnesota where it collects donations.

Laurie Blake • 952-746-3287

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