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Vans’ New Recycling Initiative to Turn Old Sneakers Into Park Benches

One man’s Vans can now become another man’s treasure.

The skate shoe brand’s newest recycling initiative will be hitting Southern California this April. As part of it, customers will be able to drop off their old footwear (all types, and all brands) at 24 Vans retail locations across the region. The shoes will then be collected by TerraCycle, a brand-funded organization that manages hard-to-recycle waste.

The rounded up footwear will be used to create a multitude of products, ranging from phone cases to park benches and, appropriately, skateboard decks. Customers who wish to take part in the program can log their contributions in the Vans Family app, earning them various rewards. The six-month test pilot of the program will help Vans “best assess what next steps we will take as a brand,” said Charlie Cawte, global corporate communications manager at Vans.

VF Corp., Vans’ parent company, is pursuing a circular business model by “rethinking the lifecycle” of its most popular footwear and apparel products.

Earth-friendly material innovations have been on the minds of sustainability-focused footwear executives in recent years. But brands are also increasingly thinking about the inevitable end of a product’s life, and where a sneaker will go when no amount of duct tape can resuscitate it.

Enter the partnership with TerraCycle, which promises to reuse, upcycle or recycle waste instead of incinerating or landfilling it. ​”This moves waste from a linear system to a circular one, allowing it to keep cycling in our economy,” according to the organization’s website.

Vans is also a part of the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, an industry group made up of more than 100 apparel and footwear brands, retailers, suppliers, nonprofits, and NGOs “working to reduce the environmental and social impacts of apparel and footwear products around the world,” according to the brand’s website. Employing the Higg Index, the organization assesses companies’ environmental performance and helps them develop more sustainable practices.

“As a global brand with a commitment to inspire youth culture, we recognize that we have a responsibility to protect the planet and its resources for future generations,” said Kim Matsoukas, senior manager of sustainability and social responsibility at Vans in a statement.

The company sources most of its leathers from Leather Working Group-certified tanneries, and  has plans to source 100 percent sustainable cotton through the Better Cotton Initiative by 2025.