If you buried your old running shoes in the garden and looked after them each time you turn one year older until you die, you would find them unchanged. Running shoes take up to 1,000 years to decompose because they mainly consist of plastic foam, mesh fabrics, and in some cases even carbon soles. The glue that holds all the pieces together makes it even harder to recycle them.1
And still, running is considered one of the greenest sports you could do. But did you know that major marathons produce about 2 million plastic cups per race? Or did you know that your running shorts contribute to the microplastic pollution in the oceans? Or did you know that it takes the amount of water that one person drinks in 2.5 years to produce one event t-shirt you probably don’t even wear?2
After all, running, along with most other sports, doesn’t seem too green anymore. Obviously, we have a lot to improve on. And we can all start with the little things to make running more eco-friendly…
1. Donate old shoes
2. Quit Fast Fashion
Fast fashion is not only a problem of the clothes you wear to work or school. It is also something that should be addressed in the running community. Most companies run their production sites in Southeast Asia to reduce cost and maximize profit at the expense of their employees and planet Earth.
3. Invest in sustainable & high-quality clothing
In the production process of one t-shirt, 2,700 liters of water are needed and comes with a large carbon footprint due to knitting, dyeing, and shipping. This means the longer you get to wear your clothes, the better the carbon footprint. Make sure to invest in high-quality clothing that will last you longer!
4. Go plogging
Beer cans, plastic bottles, and food wrappers – they’re not bio-degradable and yet they litter sideways and trails. Next time you go on a run, take a small backpack and a pair of latex gloves with you to clean up the neighborhood or the closest park. Plastic waste doesn’t belong to nature and by removing it from trails and parks, not only plants and trees will benefit, but also animals that mistake the colorful plastic wrappers as food.
Plogging, or plogga, is a trend that originated in Sweden, which means “picking up litter”. It has grown into a global trend in 2018, bringing alive organized plogging events all around the world.3
5. Opt for a tree, not a t-shirt
Millions of t-shirts are produced for events each year. How many of which go straight into the closet and are never worn again? Trees Not Tees is an organization that gives participants the chance to plant a tree instead of getting a t-shirt they don’t need. Event organizers simply add the option “I don’t need another T-shirt – please plant a tree for me instead” to their entry form.
6. Run & save time
Statistics of the European Commission show that Europeans spent between 18 (Finland) and 45 hours (United Kingdom) in road congestion in 2017.4 That’s not only a lot of time wasted on the roads, but also a waste of resources (fuel) which results in higher CO2 emissions.
Here’s what you can do: replace the car ride with a run. This gives the time spent on transport a second purpose, as you’re not only commuting by foot, but also get your training in. When you run to work in the morning and run back in the evening, this also makes it easier to run twice a day. For longer distances, taking the bike is also a great option as it’s a low-impact cross-training.
7. Run errands
There’s a reason why we say “running errands”. Just grab yourself a light backpack and head out to the grocery store by foot instead of taking the car and contributing to traffic congestion.
8. Bring your own cup
If you ever went to a large running event, you’ve seen it before: seas of white plastic cups on the side of the streets. But we can choose from numerous collapsible cups like this one. Once you’ll get to run at large events again, bring your own cup!
9. Choose real food instead of prepackaged gels and bars
Preparing your own training or race fuel comes with three advantages: You reduce waste from wrappers, you get to choose the ingredients, and real food is easier digestible than prepackaged gels and sugary energy bars.
10. Plant trees
Did you know that you can plant trees simply by running and logging your kilometers? Active giving plants trees for each 2.5k that their users log with their app.5 Even if you’re not a runner, you can plant trees by posting your yoga practices or hiking trips.
We still have a long way to go to make running really environmentally friendly or maybe even carbon neutral. But until then, we should stick to the small things we can change. Let’s do this together!
1 Alger, Kieran. “Das Schuh-Dilemma.” Runner’s World , Sept. 2020.
2 Trees Not Tees, www.treesnottees.com/.
3 Moorhouse, Drusilla. “This Fitness Trend Is A Hit With People Who Love Exercise And The Environment.” BuzzFeed News, BuzzFeed News, 17 July 2020, www.buzzfeednews.com/article/drumoorhouse/what-is-plogging-environment-swedish-fitness-trend.
4 “Hours Spent in Road Congestion Annually.” Mobility and Transport – European Commission, 27 Feb. 2019, ec.europa.eu/transport/facts-fundings/scoreboard/compare/energy-union-innovation/road-congestion_en.
5 “How It Works.” Active Giving, 21 Apr. 2020, www.activegiving.de/how-it-works/.