Engineering students’ project keep shoes out of landfills

A class project in Kara McCluskey’s environmental engineering technology class this semester set out to tackle an immense issue: The fact that each year in America, 300 million pairs of shoes are thrown away, taking an average of 30 to 40 years for just one pair to decompose.

Led by McCluskey, engineering students Brett Herrman, Oltunbosun “Bosun” Fagbemi and Nathan Lipinski set out to create shoe recycling projects to reduce the amount of shoes in landfills. They worked in groups to start shoe collection campaigns to collect sneakers for the Nike Reuse-a-Shoe program. Following the campaign, the shoes were taken to the nearest Nike Reuse-a-Shoe drop of location, The Nike Factory Store in Oklahoma City.

Herrman — an engineering technology, civil and mechanical engineering major — returned to his hometown church in La Crosse, Kansas, to begin the recycling campaign. 

“As the research went on and as the project developed, it turned into so much more than a research project for class. It started to make me think about what we all can do to help the world and what we can do to inform people of what’s going on with our environment,” Herrman said.

Herrman said the project made him realize how little people know about the impact of the things they throw away. 

“I helped the people in my community realize what’s happening. Just being able to inform more people can create a wave of impact,” Herrman said.

At the end of the project, Herrman decided to continue collecting shoes and sneakers at his church. He said he wants to expand the campaign more to see if he can continue to make an impact.

Fagbemi, a senior studying civil engineering technology from Lagos, Nigeria, focused on athletic and skateboarding shoes for his shoe recycling campaign because their contribution to the landfill problem is significant.

“Athletes tend to go through footwear faster than most people,” Fagbemi said. “As a skateboarder myself, I go through one pair of shoes in less than a month.”

Fagbemi said for his group’s campaign, they specifically targeted athletes with their marketing materials. They placed ads in the Heskett Center, in parks where people run, and created videos to target young athletes.

“This project was a step in the right direction for my career journey and dream because I want my career to be focused on renewability and sustainability,” Fagbemi said.

Currently, Fagbemi is working on getting permission to keep a permanent shoe recycling bin inside WSU’s Heskett Center to keep this initiative alive. 

Lipinski, a civil engineering technology major from Wichita, said completing this project taught him a lot about shoe consumption and waste. 

“When shoes decompose, there are a lot of hard-to-recycle toxins, including plastics and adhesives that flow into the groundwater and can end up in our drinking water,” Lipinski said.

He said that the most rewarding part of the project was seeing results from his campaign and being able to reflect on his own actions.

“The bin was filled over the brim. I was so surprised to see results from the campaign,” Lipinski said.

“Now, I’m more cognizant of my waste overall. I think about where things might end up if I throw them in the trash. I think twice now before throwing out anything that could be reused or recycled,” Lipinski said.

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