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Published: Wednesday, 1/31/2001

Old sneakers make return to playground

A heaping, malodorous pile of Toledo's used shoes - call 'em sneakers, sports shoes, court shoes, or trainers - is on its way to become playground surfaces at schools and parks worldwide.

More than 13,000 pairs of athletic shoes donated in November to the “Curb Blurb” groundbreaking recycling project are making new use of rubber and fabric that otherwise ends up in landfills.

The Ohio Department of Natural Resources worked with government, businesses, and civic groups to gather up the sneakers and send them to a sorting plant in Philadelphia. Leather and still-wearable shoes were given to charities, while worn-out pairs went on to Nike Corp.'s Oregon headquarters to be sliced, chopped, and ground into pulp.

The shoe-leavings are then turned into soft, durable playground surfaces. Similar programs were introduced in November in Cincinnati and Cleveland, and the statewide shoe total was 27,900 pairs, Arley Owens, a Recycle Ohio spokesman, said.

Toledo's efforts topped them all, he said. On March 15, an Ohio playground will be chosen for a free $40,000 resurface job, and one Toledo-area public park is a “leading contender” for the honor.

The shoe recycling program is original to Ohio, Mr. Owens said, but it is now being studied by cities and states from Florida to California. “You can expect to see it back in Toledo too,” he said. “The people there really know how to make a program kick off.”

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