Most people who run do it because they want to do something good for themselves. Running makes us feel healthy and countless studies show that running does make us healthier.
But while we are engaging in one of the healthiest activities known to man, we are leaving behind a pile of trash and garbage.
Almost all of our running clothes are made of engineered fibers. Spandex is made from polyurethane, shorts and shirts and shoes are often made out of polyester, synthetic rubber and other plastics. People in the running shoe industry will tell you that the price of running shoes is influenced by the cost of oil.
These items wear out and eventually need to be replaced. The ability to recycle these items varies from item to item. Some can be re-used or re-purposed. I have to wonder if it takes more resources to recycle, re-use or re-purpose these items than it takes to make new ones.
Recycle, reuse or upcycle?
I have donated my old running shoes to Rerun Shoes. They do not recycle the shoes into new products, but they do give them a second life. Rerun supplies micro-entrepreneurs in Mali, Guinea and Liberia with shoes which they refurbish and bring to market. This keeps these shoes out of the dump for a little longer, provides income for the local merchants and provides low-cost shoes to people who need them. But eventually they end up in a dump in Africa.
I often wonder how much energy is consumed moving a pair of shoes to Africa.
Nike established a Reuse-A-Shoe program in the 1990’s. Since the program began they have collected over 28 million pairs of shoes. They turn these shoes into Nike Grind which is used to create athletic and playground surfaces.
This keeps shoes out of the landfill and Nike Grind is used in place of other synthetic materials for basketball or tennis courts, running tracks, playgrounds and athletic fields.
Brooks Running uses Soles4Souls to re-use their old shoes. Soles4Souls donates 99% of these shoes to people in need in 127 countries. Brooks has also engineered recycling and re-use into some of their shoes. Their “Green Silence” racing flat in made from 75% recycled materials and uses soy ink.
Brooks has also developed “BioMoGo” for the mid-soles of running shoes. This biodegradable material makes up a substantial portion of their running shoes. The sole of any shoe made with this material will break down completely in 20 years under the right conditions.
These are all steps in the right direction. But how many people donate their shoes? How often are old shoes land filled under the right conditions in order to bio-degrade?
I always transition my old running shoes into daily walking shoes. Why buy new sneakers for kicking around the backyard or going to the store? I need support for running but I feel fine wearing old running shoes around the house or even on vacation. The uppers still look brand new.
All of the other stuff
Clothing made of synthetic materials do last longer than clothing made from natural fibers. The problem is that synthetic fibers are made from petroleum products. The manufacturing process creates toxic waste, only some of which can be recycled.
When those shirts, shorts, socks, bras etc do eventually wear out, what then? No one else can wear them and the materials they are made from will not break down in a land fill. If you burn them in an incinerator, they release toxic fumes.
Some organizations such as Goodwill can sell unwearable clothing to textile recycling centers. Check with your local Goodwill or Salvation Army location to see if they can use your worn out running clothes for textile recycling.
If your running clothes are still wearable, Goodwill and Salvation Army will sell them in their stores. Many groups will also pick up clothing at your home and leave receipt for you.
I have so many race shirts, I never wear any shirt often enough to wear it out. These man-made fibers are durable and I’ll probably have brand new looking shirts for years. I could donate them while they still look good or look for a Goodwill with a textile recycling program.
If recycling uses more energy and produces more waste than using virgin materials, why recycle? It may make you feel good but it may just make the problem worse. How much fuel is used to ship old running shoes to Africa?
I’m not sure what the answer is here but I wanted to provide something to think about.
- What can you do to make a difference?
- What will affect real change and not make things worse or create a new problem?
- What do you do with your old running items?
Run well my friends.