8 Ways Runners Can Reduce Waste

A running trail amongst the trees

In a time when climate change is at the forefront of most conversations, it begs the question: what can I do to help?

Unfortunately, in the world of running, there is a lot of single-use plastic involved. From cups at races to gel wrappers, there are little ways to avoid contributing some sort of trash without compromising performance. Yet, cutting down on waste is still possible. Here are a few tips.

1. Be mindful of SWAG

Race expos are a fantastic place to get free SWAG from multiple booths, but sometimes these products go unused, eventually ending up in a landfill. Be mindful of samples you grab by asking yourself if you will use the item or if you just like the rush of acquiring new stuff. Talking to other runners about this mindset might decrease overall waste from expos as well: the less runners that engage with SWAG, the more the vendors at these expos will have to work to market their products with less waste.

If you find yourself not using things from an expo, gift it to another runner who may want to use it. For things with expiration dates (ex. Protein shakes), write down when they expire so you don’t end up wasting product.

A runner pins on her race bib.

2. Keep a throwaway clothes bin

Instead of constantly buying new throwaway clothes for colder weather races, keep a bin of older clothes. A pair of worn pajama pants can work great in keeping warm at the start line. Long sleeve finisher shirts, race ponchos, and tube socks as makeshift arm warmers are other fantastic options. Some races have donation bins for the homeless, so you’ll be able to give your old clothes a new life instead of discarding them in the trash. Plus, this also helps you save money by using clothes you already have instead of buying new clothes only to toss them at the start line.

3. Donate your medals

A row of medals at the Flying Pig Marathon.

Honestly, one of the best parts about completing a race is getting that hard-earned medal placed around your neck. But there’s only so much storage and wall space runners have that some can up in a bag at the bottom of a closet or worse, the dumpster.

Luckily, some organizations will accept this former race treasure. Nonprofit Medals 4 Mettle gives donated medals to adults and children battling illness while Sports Medal Recycling drops them off at recycling facilities where they are scrapped for fundraising proceeds that benefit runners with a charity race entry.

4. Give race shirts a new purpose

Unless your race entry allows you to opt out of a finisher shirt, you’ll receive one that you either wear frequently or not at all. For the latter, consider using unwanted shirts as an aforementioned throwaway item or donate them to charity. If the shirts are too sentimental for you to part with, consider making a quilt with all of them. Companies like Project Repatcan create custom quilts from race shirts, taking the guesswork out for you.

5. Use a reusable bottle

A woman fills up her reusable water bottle before a race.

Instead of using a single-use plastic bottle for hydration, switch to something you can utilize over and over again. There are multiple hydration products ranging from different sizes to where it rests on your body. Some examples include camel packs, handheld bottles, hydration belts, and others. These products are usually more comfortable and secure than holding a water bottle by itself. Not to mention, some hydration bottles are insulated, keeping your drink of choice cooler for a longer period than a water bottle would.

6. The 3 R’s

You know the saying: reduce, reuse, recycle. When it comes to buying hydration or fuel, this saying also applies.

While reducing fuel or hydration intake can be dangerous for runners, you can be more mindful of your purchases by only buying what you need. This way, you lower the risk of buying too much product and not having the chance to use it before it expires, therefore reducing trash.

Through their Performance Nutrition Free Recycle program, Terracycle allows recycling for performance nutrition for all brands. Start using this program by dropping off or mailing your empty nutrition packets to a Terracycle point. You can also take it a step further by starting a new drop-off location.

For empty hydration containers, consider repurposing or reusing them. They can be used for holding spare knick-knacks, such as small kitchen items or spare bike parts.

Lastly, if the hydration container has a recycling symbol on it, clean it out and recycle it.

A man runs down a tree-lined path.

7. Find new ways to use old sneakers

Let’s face it: running in worn-out sneakers is not safe, no matter how much money you spent on them. However, you can always find another use. Consider wearing them for other activities, such as painting, gardening, or light walking. You can also donate them to charity or organizations such as Sneaker Impact.

Another easy way to donate or recycle your running shoes is by calling your local Fleet Feet. Most Fleet Feet stores have donation bins or partner with recycling programs to put old running shoes to good use.

8. Go plogging

If you pick up trash while running, congratulations - you are plogging. Solo or in a group, carry an empty trash bag, a pair of gloves, and plan a route. The earth will get cleaned and you’ll get some exercise - talk about a win-win.

Some local Fleet Feets host group plogging events to clean up the neighborhood. Follow your local Fleet Feet on Instagram to see what they have planned.

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