“You’d better walk a mile in their shoes” goes the old saying about open-mindedness and understanding. To many, it’s always been sound advice. To entrepreneur Ira Baseman, it’s a business plan.
Baseman is the president and founder of Pennsylvania-based Community Recycling, a for-profit company of 30 employees that uses the power of the web and global shipping to connect gently used clothes, shoes, bags, belts and related materials to the people who need these things the most. ShoeBox Recycling is one of Community Recycling’s innovative programs, which also include CR Bins, CR Kids, CR Campus and CR Home.
What makes ShoeBox Recycling different from your local recycler? Well, it’s the unique concept of creating “SoleMates,” a pen pal–style connection between recycler and recipient that Baseman hopes changes everyone’s perspective on recycling. Instead of dropping off your used Chuck Taylors at the local charity and hoping for the best, ShoeBox Recycling allows you to track your recycled shoes all the way to the person it benefits — and establish a human connection if all goes well.
Here’s how it works. You go to www.shoeboxrecycling.com, sign up and pack your shoes into a box. Print a SoleMate note and include it inside your shoes in the box — your “shoe story” or wish for the future owner — and a free FedEx Ground label. Use the links on the site to either locate a nearby drop-off or schedule a pickup.
It’s that easy. Shoes are shipped to ShoeBox Recycling at no cost to you, where they’re prepared for reuse. Meanwhile, you’re able to track your shoes all the way to your SoleMate.
To date, ShoeBox Recycling has recycled more than 800,000 pounds of shoes from all 50 states, generating more than 11,000 SoleMate notes. Recycled shoes have found their way to every corner of the globe, where they’re most frequently purchased and resold via small, family-owned businesses.
“Our most recent SoleMate connection was found in Karachi, Pakistan,” Baseman says proudly.
While most of ShoeBox Recycling’s volume is from schools and non-profit groups, the company has recently had great success working with larger corporations on “shoe drives,” including Comcast, Hewlett-Packard and Home Depot.
Baseman is quick to point out that recycling isn’t a new concept; it’s been around for as long as humankind has lived in communities. What is new, he says, is our ability to use technology to make recycling more open and social, more instantaneous, and more trackable — things Baseman says ShoeBox Recycling is best at.
“At ShoeBox Recycling, we want to make recycling more personal, more tangible and more real,” he says. “We believe people can connect across cultures and across the globe through the simple act of recycling a pair of shoes.”
Baseman says he is especially proud of being a for-profit recycler. For him, recycling is a cause — but one with a strong economic purpose. “There’s a value to recycling, not only to our local communities, but also abroad,” he says. “We want to help people connect the dots.”