The Green Athletes, a group of students dedicated to making athletics at Bowdoin more sustainable, have hooked up with Michael Aronson ’83 to collect discarded shoes and send them to merchants in West Africa.
Aronson runs a for-profit business called Rerun Shoes, based in Amherst, Mass., that collects wearable used shoes — kid’s shoes, cleats, sneakers, sandals, dress shoes for men and women — and supplies them to micro-entrepreneurs in Mali, Guinea and Liberia. The merchants refurbish the shoes and sell them at local markets.
On its website, Rerun Shoes is described as a “social enterprise with an environmental mission. … Our efforts divert usable shoes from the waste stream in North America to reuse in African markets.”
Bowdoin Green Athletes, which was formed last year by swimmer Alex Tougas ’14 and volleyball player Kristin Hanczor ’12, decided one of its goals was to help Bowdoin athletes recycle the many shoes they quickly wear down. Members researched different recycling options and discovered Aronson’s business, which they decided was the best partner for them, according to Chow. It was just a coincidental bonus that they shared the same alma mater.
Before spring break, Green Athletes’ leaders — Tougas, Chow, softball player Tricia Thibodeau ’13 and basketball player Tori Munson ’15 — set out two boxes, one at the Buck Center and one at Farley Field House.
Since then, they’ve collected 300 pounds of shoes, according to Tougas. More than athletes have caught on: staff, faculty and Brunswick community members are also donating shoes.
The Green Athletes accepts all shoes, in any condition, except for high heels and high boots. Although Aronson only wants used shoes in good condition and shoes for warmer climates, the Green Athletes say they don’t want to restrict donations too much. They will sort through the shoes and cull the ones with holes or which are too far gone. Those ones will be donated to Nike, to be turned into turf, explained Thibodeau.
Although Rerun Shoes pays for all shipping costs, the biggest challenge for Bowdoin’s Rerun initiative is finding enough big cardboard boxes to collect shoes, Chow said. The group is hoping to be chartered next year as an official club to get more support from the College.