Top 10 DIY Ideas for Recycling Rubber Flip Flops

Trying to recycle rubber flip flops is more of an ecological conundrum than it would seem at first glance. Unsurprisingly, the flimsy footwear is a big favorite among beach-bound Americans, but that is not where it stops. The breezy flip-flops are also ubiquitous in developing countries, due to the ease in manufacturing and their eventual low cost. So why do they pose a threat to the environment?

Rubber Flip Flops Are Literally Everywhere

When it comes to rubber flip flops, the cheaper they are, the faster they break. Consequently, millions upon millions of these shoes end up either discarded in landfills or worse. Each year, more and more flip-flops add to the mountainous tide of plastic waste polluting our oceans and killing the marine wildlife. Worrying fact: Flip-flops are a frequent sight in Great Pacific Garbage Patch, the largest floating landfill worldwide.

But ‘cheap’ can also mean nasty construction. The most common flip-flops (for which you pay a few bucks) are lucky to last a summer season. Either the strap snaps or it pulls through the sole, so you have to buy a new pair next year. If you want to reduce your costs and the impact on the environment, you need to be willing to spend a few extra bucks and buy “double bung” flip-flops. These have extra fastenings through the sole, prolonging their lifecycle.

Once you throw them away, the old sandals can leach toxic chemicals into the environment, due to the variety of non-recyclable plastics used in their manufacture. PVC and polyurethane are the most common and they both pose a harmful risk when they end up in landfills.

A recent study conducted by the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation tested 27 pairs of plastic shoes. Surprisingly, the scientists discovered hazardous chemicals in 17 of the flip-flops, including toxic metals (like mercury, lead, and cadmium) and the endocrine-disrupting phthalate DEHP.

What Are Flip Flops Made Of?

Unfortunately, there is not much good news regarding the materials used to make flip-flops. Primarily, they were made from rubber but the more common material nowadays is polyurethane (just like the soles of many shoes). Given that polyurethane is a #7 resin, you cannot toss the summery shoes into your recycling bin and hope for the best. Only some companies recycle polyurethane, and they usually prefer donations of large quantities.

Once discarded, flip-flops made from polyurethane – yet another plastic derived from crude oil – will hang around in the environment for a very, very long time. Any cleaning initiative that takes place along river banks will yield the same results. Flip-flops are frequently one of the most common items – dozens and dozens washed up in a very short stretch. Imagine how many more are floating around the waterways of the world.

How to Recycle Rubber Flip Flops

The very innocent-looking sandal seems to be causing some serious trouble, doesn’t it? Each one of us is probably still hanging onto one sad pair of flip-flops hidden in the back of the closet. You know which ones; the dirty, flat rubber, and scuffed pair that has seen a few too many days at the beach. You may need a new pair of flip-flops, but what can you do with the ones you’ve got now? Tossing them in the trash should always be the last option. Is there anywhere you can recycle them? Fortunately, there are a few recycling options you could give a try.

Toy sculptures made of recycled flip-flops / Source

Toy sculptures made of recycled flip-flops / Source

Send Them to UniquEco

Founded by a marine biologist with a passion for the environment, UniquEco is an innovative organization that accepts shipments of flip-flops from around the world. Once they receive your shipping, the breezy footwear is repurposed into colorful, handmade pieces, such as jewelry, art, and toys. In addition to the eco-friendly approach, UniquEco is also socially responsible, offering much-needed jobs to local artisans.

There’s only one problem: UniquEco is based in Kenya, which means that the energy expenditure of shipping your flip-flop collection from the U.S. is likely to cancel any recycling benefits. What you can do, however, is to organize a local flip-flop drive, and send your town’s unwanted pairs in one large shipment.

Discover DIY Projects

Flip-flops may be a quirky material for DIY projects, but don’t discard their usefulness just yet. If you’re feeling particularly crafty, you can turn these shoes into some interesting household items. Here are some suggestions you can take up on your next DIY session.

  • Tired of chairs and tables scratching your nice wooden floors? Cut your old flip-flops into small rounds and use them as protective gripper pads for your furniture legs.
  • You can also take a knife, shred the flip-flops into thin strips, and use them as cushion stuffing. Shredded thongs are also perfect replacements for Styrofoam peanuts as packing materials.
  • The soles of the shoes are a great craft project for your kids. Have them make their own custom rubber stamps.
  • In addition to preventing furniture scratching your floor, placing old flip-flops under washing machines and dryers can also reduce vibration. These little things matter when it comes to reducing noise pollution in the home.
  • Cut flip-flops to size to use as gaskets (only when heat is not an issue).
  • The shoes also make for some useful and cheap fishing floats for your next trip.
  • If your flip-flops are not too destroyed, wash them and let your kids cut them up to make hanging mobiles. This works great especially if the shoes are thin and brightly colored.
  • Cut the flip-flops into thin strips and connect them with string. Use the result as a fly curtain.
  • Do you have feeling the cold breeze under the doors in winter? Cut the flip-flops to size for filling in gaps. Also, glue a couple of layers together for doorstoppers and buffers.
  • To use them as furniture movers, you should cut out the rubber sole and superglue them into milk jug tops. Not only will they save your back, but they will also help you slide the couch across the floor with ease.

Next Time, Buy Wisely

It is always better to prevent waste than to look for recycling options, so think before you buy another pair of cheap rubber flip-flops. Instead, consider purchasing a longer-lasting pair from an eco-minded company, such as Ocean Minded. Its designs use greener materials, such as recycled car tires, hemp, and water-based glue. Feelgoodz is another great option; its biodegradable sandals are made from 100 percent natural rubber. Your best bet is buying your flip-flops from a company that offers a mail-in recycling program for its footwear (ever heard of Okabashi?).


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William E. Eubanks

I'm one of the main writers on the site; mostly dealing with environmental news and ways to live green. My goal is to educate others about this great planet, and the ways we can help to protect it.

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