Recycling running shoes: Good or bad?
by RICK NORTON, Associate Editor
Jun 23, 2013 | 513 views | 0 0 comments | 72 72 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Rick Norton
Rick Norton
“These are my new shoes. They're good shoes. They won't make you rich like me. They won't make you rebound like me. They definitely won't make you handsome like me. They'll only make you have shoes like me. That's it.”

— Charles Barkley

Retired NBA All-Star

(b. Feb. 20, 1963)


In spite of past encouragement by the wife to enter my incumbent pair of ragged, and equally as repulsive, recycled running shoes into the Annual National Odor-Eaters Rotten Sneaker Contest — yes, it exists — I have refused.

And with good reason ... er, reasons.

One, this filthy, grotesque pair of runners-turned-yard-shoes still has months of life remaining for mowing the grass, whacking the weeds, completing a yet untold number of additional outdoor chores and serving as protective cover for my badly pronounced bunions.

Two, this once durable pair of Nike Airs doesn’t yet wheeze like a mouse on oxygen, meaning its built-in cushion still has 28 to 32 percent of original bounce.

Three, the brand lettering and the familiar logo are still barely legible — an indicator that a sufficient layer of grass stains and dirt buildup have yet to lay siege, at least in a quantity that would justify final discard into an afterlife of odorous legend.

And four, that Odor-Eaters Rotten Sneaker Contest is just for kids, ages 6 to 14, so I am told. Apparently, the folks in Montpelier, Vt. — home of the Odor-Eaters Hall of Fumes; and yes, that’s its name — give little credence to the competitive smell of old sneakers worn by adults. Their misguided belief is the foul old sneaker of a child bears no legitimate rival.

For the record, this year’s champion is 14-year-old Casey Adams from the Connecticut town of Bristol. For her stench, Casey earned $2,500 in grand prize winnings; plus, she received an all-expense paid trip to New York City to see the Broadway show “Wicked.” She also landed the Golden Sneaker Award, a trophy and a supply of Odor-Eaters products.

Judges for the 38th annual contest — I’ll repeat, it really exists — were George “Master Sniffer” Aldrich, a chemical specialist for NASA, and Dr. Rachel Herz, Ph.D., a professor at Brown University and author of “The Scent of Desire” and “That’s Disgusting.”

Folks, I can’t make up this kind of stuff. Check out and smell for yourself.

Back to my decrepit pair of recycled runners.

My beloved sees them as the king of stink though her opinion is skewed, I feel, by physical distance. She won’t get within 25 feet of them and will never, ever stand downwind. Because I’m the one wearing them, and have been for at least two growing seasons, my nose has grown more acclimated to their ... fragrance.

“Those shoes are wilting the roses!” she declared the other day in reference to five Knockout rose plants that I had planted ... while wearing the recycled wonders.

“Are not,” I countered.

“Are too,” she replied.

Remember two weeks ago when I explained one of my wedding vows in ’77 allotted only two such exchanges in the same conversation. I was again fast approaching the limit. So I changed the subject.

“My angel, you’re looking especially lovely today,” I offered, bowing my forehead to afford a better view of the halo.

“Turn off the charm, Romeo,” she advised, arms folded and toe tapping the ground. “Those shoes are evil. They must be destroyed. I say by fire or depth charge.”

In truth, on past occasions we had tried to find new homes for these tired old misfits. Once I thought we had found the answer. Upon having my last pair of recycled runners banned from the Bradley County Landfill by Santek Environmental, I sought the partnership of a Bradley County hog farmer.

It was a sound plan. After I assured him of their power, this prince of pork in overalls accepted my $10 check — $5 per shoe, no volume discount — to take in the recycled runners and to give them a final home. His strategy was to suspend them by their tattered laces from a pole in the middle of the crowded, mud-covered pig sty in order to dilute the smell of the pen.

Within two hours, six pigs had fainted, two writhed in spasms while foaming at the mouth requiring veterinarian support, another secluded himself in the pen’s far corner and attempted drowning by mud and even a unit from the Bradley County HAZMAT Team arrived in full gear in response to reports of toxic clouds floating toward the Cleveland city limits.

After settling out of court with the farmer for tainted pork and lost bacon, I was informed by local authorities I would not be prosecuted for domestic terrorism. However, I did lose the shoes, which are now locked away in an underground hazardous waste facility somewhere in west Texas.

“Maybe next time you should consider donating your recycled runners — before they reach DEFCON 1 — to someone who can make better use of ‘gently used’ shoes,’” my wife suggested. “Maybe Shoes For Orphan Souls?”

Nice idea, but I feared such ill-planned philanthropy would lead to Shoes For Lost Souls. Besides, they accept only new shoes, and with good reason.

Better to just leave it alone and recognize when gone is gone.

“So, evil genius, you’re gonna start destroying those old shoes as I’ve suggested for years now?” she asked.

Peering into the clouds — the pretty white ones, not the deadly toxic ones buoyed by recycled runner fumes — I offered only with a sigh, “The idea stinks, but ... yes.”

Retired WNBA superstar Sheryl Swoopes once said in an interview, “I didn’t grow up thinking, ‘Oh, maybe someday I’m going to have a shoe named after me.’”

Nor did I.