Why shoes being resold instead of recycled is a problem

Feb 27, 2023

Last Updated: Feb 28, 2023

The recent revelation by Reuters that running shoes donated for recycling in Singapore ended up in Indonesian second-hand markets is disappointing news. ("Dow said it was recycling our shoes. We found them at an Indonesian flea market.")

This is not only bad for this particular initiative, but it erodes confidence in all recycling efforts.

Although some shoes were cherry-picked and resold, there is no clarity on the fate of the rest. In fact there is no transparency at all.

In addition, importing second hand clothes and shoes is illegal in Indonesia. “Such cast-offs pose a public health risk, undercut its local textile industry and often pile more waste into its already bulging landfills,” said a local official.

Isn't re-use better than recycling?

Is it good that some shoes will see a second life instead of being recycled? 

This framing misses the bigger issues:

  1. Just because some shoes were selected to be resold, doesn't mean all were: only the best will have this fate.
  2. Other shoes may have been dumped, burned or even become part of the massive regional problem of marine pollution.
  3. Lack of transparency means we have no idea how many shoes, if any, were recycled.
  4. Likewise we don't know how many donated shoes have become waste in Indonesia.
  5. But mostly, this undermines public trust in all recycling efforts.
It's not uncommon to throw out half the shoes

Fool me once, shame on you. 

News that the shoe donations were misused and that there was inadequate oversight to ensure the programme delivered on its promises, feels like yet another case of greenwashing.

This is not only bad for this particular initiative, but it erodes confidence in all recycling efforts.

This news is disheartening for those who work hard to promote recycling and encourage people to recycle. Many individuals are already cynical about recycling, believing that it is not worth the effort because it is all a lie. Unfortunately, this time, they were right, and that's a shame.

So How?

We hope that efforts will be made to regain public trust by providing clear and transparent accounts of the initiative, implementing audit controls, and holding those responsible accountable. It is also our hope that this incident will spark a new era of transparency in recycling. Ensuring transparency and auditing of the recycling process for waste materials when they leave the country can help people believe that recycling is a legitimate effort.


SportSG, partners apologise for ‘lapse’ in shoe-recycling project.

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