Dear Recyclebank: My daughter is a ballerina. We go through a ton of pointe shoes, and I hate the thought that I am filling up landfills with them. Are you aware of where I can recycle them? I am not great with arts and crafts, which some people recommend, but would be happy to forward them to those who are. –Vanna B.
Dear Vanna: We learned just how short-lived pointe shoes are when we were asked to donate to a shoe fund at a Nutcracker performance. A former dancer with the Atlanta Ballet tells us that the average professional dancer goes through 60-plus pairs a season.
A spokesperson from Bloch, a pointe shoe manufacturer, says the shoes are made of satin and leather, and the shank (the insert in the base of the shoe that gives the shoe its structure) is usually made of cardstock or cardboard stiffened with a glue or paste. Because some of these materials are so delicate, and can quickly break down when in contact with perspiration, the shoes don’t last long — some professional dancers wear a new pair of shoes for each performance.
With so many pointe shoes being used, it makes sense that dancers would want to do whatever possible to help them last a little longer — most dancers already reuse the elastics and ribbons with their shoes, and try to reduce moisture buildup by drying them between practice sessions, and storing and transporting the shoes in a mesh bag — and to give the shoes a better end-of-life home than the trash can. Unfortunately, the latter is often easier said than done.
If the shoes are still usable, consider donating them. One World Running will accept ballet shoes that are still in usable condition (a particularly good resource for kids’ ballet shoes that have simply been outgrown). The shoes can be shipped to the headquarters in Colorado, or taken to a drop-off location. Company founder Michael Sandrock says that One World Running primarily donates athletic shoes to those in need around the world, and he typically sends the dance shoes they receive to Cuba, where they are used at dance schools.
As for pointe shoes that aren’t usable anymore: A spokesperson with Grishko, another pointe shoe manufacturer, says the shoes are not recyclable — and it’s true that you can’t just put them right in your curbside recycling bin. But the Bloch spokesperson points out that the shoes are “as recyclable as the raw materials themselves.” The trick is finding collection facilities that accept pointe shoes (or parts of pointe shoes).
If you can find them locally, textile recycling collection bins, such as those that are part of the Secondary Materials and Recycled Textiles Association or the World Wear Project, are a good place to drop pointe shoes that are “dead,” in dancer lingo. Textiles recyclers will recycle unusable clothing and shoes into a variety of items like new clothes, wiping rags, insulation, stuffing, or fabric.
But even if it’s difficult to find a place that will accept pointe shoes for recycling, there are other things that can be done with the shoes once they’re dead. Many professional dance companies sell autographed shoes as a fundraiser for the organization; the Boston Ballet even identifies in which performance the shoe was worn.
And as you mentioned, the beautiful shoes are also rich inspiration for myriad projects. In our research we found a designer who created a dress from 30 pairs of used pointe shoes, as well as projects using pointe shoes to make Christmas trees and wreaths, hand-painted shoes, even bookends! For you and others who don’t feel so crafty, consider donating or selling the pointe shoes to someone who is through marketplaces like Craigslist, eBay, Freecycle, and Etsy.