Sustainability isn’t a concept that’s really given a second thought when it comes to running. But even the slightest decisions we make from the type of running gear we buy to how and where we go for a run has an impact on the Earth and its precious resources, especially when you multiply that by millions of runners (and still growing) around the world. So while you’re re-evaluating the physical imprint of your running habits, here are some simple tips for how you can incorporate more sustainable and eco-thoughtful practices doing the sport you love:
1. Donate or reuse old shoes
Where do your old pair of running shoes go when they’ve pounded enough miles? Most likely to the dump. However, there are a myriad of organizations that will take your old pair of running shoes and either give them to those who need shoes or repurpose the material to create other products. For example, the Nike Reuse-a-Shoe program takes worn out shoes and recycles them into a material called “Nike Grind” which is then used to surface running tracks, playgrounds and indoor/outdoor athletic courts. Here’s a list of more organizations nationwide that you can donate to.
Or find other creative uses for old shoes, such as transforming a pair into a makeshift outdoor planter or cutting off the back heel so you can use them as comfortable outdoor slippers while working in the yard.
2. Make smart purchases
Even though you donate your old running shoes and clothes, that’s only addressing the latter half of the product’s life cycle. Where you buy your gear and what it’s made of matters greatly. There are several factors that go into determining whether or not your running gear is sustainable, and that involves looking at what materials are being used to make it, where those materials are coming from and the actual manufacturing processes to produce it. Most running apparel is made of synthetic, petroleum-based materials such as polyester, lycra, spandex, which can all require heavy water usage or involve toxic chemicals during the manufacturing process if done incorrectly. Several brands either use recycled or natural, raw materials. Tasc Performance sources their fabrics from bamboo and implements a closed loop dyeing system that reuses 99 percent of the waste water. Other more sustainably-minded activewear companies include Patagonia, Prana, The North Face, Icebreaker, etc.
3. Avoid plastic water bottles
Even if you diligently recycle your plastic water bottles, according to the Container Recycling Institute, more than 60 million plastic bottles still make it to landfills every day in the U.S. alone. Plus, if you fill a single plastic bottle up with a quarter of crude oil, that’s how much oil it takes to make that bottle, which adds up to millions of crude oil barrels. Instead of grabbing a pack of plastic water bottles, invest in a lightweight reusable water bottle to take on your runs and even during races. All those tiny plastic and paper cups at the aid stations being thrown on the ground, are only contributing to the waste build-up.
4. Go on an eco run
Every once in awhile your run could be an efficient way to clean up your neighborhood or the local trails and parks nearby. When trash accumulates it not only looks, well, trashy, but it can also be harmful for the environment. Next time, take a small bag and a pair of latex gloves with you in case you encounter any trash on the run. Or organize a monthly group run centered around picking up trash for really affected areas.
5. Run to social events
Yes, planning your social gatherings around runs can actually be beneficial for the environment. Instead of driving to that delicious, hole-in-the-wall pizza place or that hip new brewery to meet your friends, gather those same friends to run to those places and cut down on your collected carbon footprint. This works best in urban areas where local businesses are a run’s distance, but plenty of running groups are now centering their runs around grabbing beers or a bite to eat afterward. And it makes that beer/pizza so much more rewarding.