How can I recycle my outdoor gear?

By: Debra Ronca
Image Gallery: Winter Sports Believe it or not, these skis could become outdoor deck material. See pictures of winter sports.
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Ev­ery year, as winter ends and a warmer season begins, our minds turn to the chore of spring cleaning. Many of us take this opportunity to clean out our closets. But in today's world, it's no longer acceptable to simply toss your unwanted items into the Dumpster. We know what to do with old clothes or household items -- recycle or reuse. Goodwill, Salvation Army, Craigslist, eBay, Freecycle -- all these organizations help to keep our goods out of our landfills.

If you're an active person with a lot of outdoor hobbies, chances are you've got a pile of gear you don't use anymore. Old outerwear, used camping equipment, climbing ropes, shoes and boots, backpacks -- all this stuff gets a lot of wear and tear. When a shiny new piece of equipment catches your eye, you're likely to replace your old stuff with the new.


If you're into outdoor sports, you're probably into protecting the outdoors as well. So, as a consumer, you'll want to make wise choices at the cash register. Before you purchase that shiny new piece of equipment, take a few things into consideration: How long will this new piece last? What is its environmental footprint? Will the company recycle it for me? How will I be able to dispose of it when I no longer need it? It's called conscious consumerism.

Once you've made your new purchase, it's time to make a wise choice about disposing of your old equipment. Even though your equipment may no longer be of any use to you, there are many organizations around the globe that would be happy to have it. Activist groups, youth organizations, charities -- all of these groups will gladly accept your donations. Many organizations welcome used gear and sports equipment -- in fact, so many that you can search around for a charity or group that means the most to you.


Recycling Gear vs. Donating Gear

Could these boots be melted down to surface a basketball court or track?
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It's important to understa­nd the distinction between recycling your gear and donating your gear. Recycling your gear means giving it to an authorized center where it's reprocessed into raw materials. Donating your gear means giving it to a person or organization that will use it, which lengthens the lifespan of the item. This distinction is important for safety reasons.

For example, you shouldn't donate used climbing rope. Rope must be in top condition for safe climbs. Most manufacturers advise that their ropes be retired after five years in service and/or 10 years after the manufacture date [source:]. Obviously, though, if your rope is shredding or damaged before then, it's time for a replacement. Recycling centers can melt down nylon climbing rope to make it into completely new products like carpet fiber, coat hangers, telephones and children's toys. Some companies that sell rope will also recycle it for you [source: Sterling Rope]. Check your local retail stores, too, for free return or redemption programs.


If you have old running shoes and sneakers lying around, Nike will take them off your hands. Its successful Reuse-A-Shoe program takes your old sneakers (any brand) and recycles them into an entirely new product -- athletic and playground surfaces. Adventure clothing like fleece, cotton tees and some polyester products are also recyclable through a program called Common Threads, implemented by the retail company Patagonia. You simply mail Common Threads your appropriate used clothing, and they recycle it down to make new clothing. Some of this recycled clothing also contains fiber made from recycled soda bottles!

Be a Do-gooder -- Donate Gear

Beyond s­hoes, clothes and climbing rope, your snow skiing equipment is also recyclable. Most avid skiers replace their skis every few years. And, the old skis usually end up in the back of the closet or in a landfill [source: MacDonald]. A company called SnowSport Industries America is working on a process to recycle used skis -- melting them down and repurposing them into decking material. So you could eventually sip cocktails on your own skiing equipment.

Perhaps you're feeling charitable and would prefer to make a socially conscious rather than merely environmentally conscious decision about the disposal of your outdoor gear. There are lots of ways to donate your gear for good causes. A simple Google search will bring up dozens of ways for you to donate your old equipment and gear to the organizations that need them. And remember, many donations are tax deductible.


If your gear is in working order, you can look into organizations like I Love Schools to make donations. Its Web site includes a database of teachers who have posted requests for particular items for students. The Web site Sports Gift takes your old sports equipment and gives it to underprivileged children around the world. The charity project Gear4Good welcomes all your old equipment -- boots, tents, jackets and backpacks. And, if Gear4Good can't use it, it'll sell the equipment on eBay and use the money for its charitable endeavors.

Lots More Information

Related H­owStuffWorks Articles

More Great Links

  • "Sterling Rope Recycling Program." Sept. 21, 2007. (Jan. 22, 2009)
  • Nike. "Get Involved: Recycle Your Shoes with Nike." 2008. (Jan. 22, 2009)
  • Patagonia. "Common Threads Garment Recycling." 2009. (Jan. 22, 2009)
  • Kauder, Carol. "You Can Recycle Your Skis!?" Nov. 18, 2008. (Jan. 22, 2009)
  • MacDonald, G. Jeffrey. "Two Entrepreneurs Turn Discarded Skis into Outdoor Furniture." April 1, 2008. (Jan. 22, 2009)
  • Patagonia. "Fabric: Recycled Polyester." 2009. (Jan. 22, 2009)
  • Bannatyne, Lesley. "Where does your recycled bottle go?" Sept. 13, 2005. (Jan. 22, 2009)
  • The Mountain Fund. "Gear4Good." 2009. (Jan. 22, 2009)
  • Terracycle. "Terracycle." 2009. (Jan. 22, 2009)