These shoes are made for ... recycling?

The REI store for outdoors enthusiasts is now accepting customers' funky old shoes as part of a test recycling program in partnership with Maplewood-based Wipers Recycling and the Recycling Association of Minnesota (RAM), officials recently announced.

Wipers Recycling will collect, grind and repackage the shoes into oil-absorbing spill kits for use in industrial settings, airports, rivers, lakes and parks.

The effort, called "Run in and Recycle," is part of a greater plan to boost Minnesota's recycling rates from 40 percent now to 50 percent by 2011, RAM organizers said.

Just a few weeks old, the program has proved so successful that REI officials expect to roll it out to 100 other stores, according to Barb Eytinge, who manages REI's Bloomington store. Right now, just three stores are testing the idea: Bloomington, Seattle and Denver.

"Our customers are excited about it," Eytinge said.

As of Friday, customers had chucked 1,500 pounds (320 cubic feet) of used shoes, boots and sneakers into REI's collection trunk at the front door in Bloomington. A fifth delivery run to Wipers is scheduled for next week.

"Because it's been so successful here, we are thinking of taking it out to our other Twin Cities locations in Roseville and Maple Grove, and we are trying to branch it out to the other locations" nationwide, REI outreach specialist Don Begalle said.

"Here, it has spawned a couple of Scout troops and school groups to [create] shoe-collection projects ... to help out and keep things from the landfill and into some other use," Begalle said.

Run in and Recycle inspired REI to go a step further. On Friday, the Bloomington store will begin collecting customers' unwanted but high-quality bikes for Full Cycle, a training program for homeless youth. Only used high-end bikes with names such as Trek, Gary Fischer, Novarra and K2, among others, will be accepted for the program that trains kids to repair bikes, REI supervisor Jeff Stubblefield said.

Minnesota recycled roughly 2.6 million tons of material last year, a figure that has been stagnant for a few years, said Wayne Gjerde, who is with the Minnesota Pollution Control agency.

Wipers President Patty Gearin hopes she'll be able to grow her fledgling business with new partnerships like the one she has forged with REI.

The company received a $1.3 million loan last year from Premier Bank to buy a Maplewood building and a new grinder capable of chewing shoes into tiny pellets.

Dee DePass • 612-673-7725