Erek Hansen, called Eco Erek, wants to find a way to reuse the shoes and keep them out of landfills. On Monday he brought more than 4,000 pairs of shoes he collected to USAgain, a West Chicago based clothing recycler.
Since the spring, he has organized collection drives throughout the Midwest because more than 300 million pairs of shoes are thrown out each year in the United States and dumped in landfills.
"I take old jeans and old shoes and turn them into useful products for other people," Hansen said. "I think as humans we should reduce our waste as much as possible and be a little more eco-friendly."
On Sunday, Hansen drove from Ohio with his mom to the USAgain warehouse in West Chicago and Monday he unloaded all of the shoes he has collected.
"I contacted USAgain and they said I could send in the shoes I collect, and they would remanufacture them for different purposes," he said.
"Absolutely proud, over the top," Amy Hansen, mother, said. "He collected more than 4,000 pairs of shoes and we counted every single one of them."
USAgain's mission is to divert textiles from landfills. They partnered with Hansen two years ago.
"Eco-friendly is not just some passing fad," said USAgain's Graham Grochocinski. "It is a necessity for him and we appreciate that. A lot of these shoes will be re-used around the world by people who cannot afford shoes."
USAgain plans to recycle the shoes for re-use or repurpose them. They made a $1,000 donation on his behalf to a non-profit organization fostering clean-up efforts.
"I think they should open their eyes and look out to the world and see what they can do with their stuff," Hansen said. "Do something with your stuff beside throw them in the trash because they just end up in a land field."
Worn out shoes can be ground up and made into recreational surfaces, including playgrounds, running tracks and tennis courts.
He is now on his way back to Ohio where the process starts all over again and says he will continue to do this for as long as he can.
To donate shoes or find out how to help Hansen, visit ecoerek.org