Let’s Keep the Earth Clean by Running Green

As runners, we consume a lot of everything. We experience “runger” as our miles pick up, so our grocery list becomes longer. We drive to group runs on weekends, using more gas in our vehicles and we fly to destination races. We go through shoes like candy. We do a lot of laundry. We shower more — maybe, I’m not speaking for everyone. At races we ditch Dixie Cups by the thousand. We runners use a lot of stuff. In general, when we run we need extra clothes, food, water, gear, and transportation.

If you’re at all environmentally inclined like I am, the use of all this extraneous stuff might leave you wondering how you can reduce the impact your running has on the planet. How can we become greener runners? Read on!

Reduce Our Carbon Running Shoe-prints

Don’t forget to stop and hug a tree occasionally!

Our carbon footprint is the amount of carbon emissions released into the atmosphere due to the results of your actions and lifestyle choices. Sometimes, especially in America where public transportation is not the best, it is difficult to reduce our carbon footprint. Luckily we are runners. Muahahaha.

That’s right. We can reduce our carbon footprint by run commuting or literally running errands! How many times could we skip a trip in the car and trade it for a run to the bank or even an ice cream date with friends. Once we become comfortable with being our sweaty selves in public, it’s easy to run wherever.

The way we purchase our food affects our carbon footprint as well. Do you know where your food comes from? A farm in your state or Chile? If we buy local, seasonal foods, it travels less, reducing carbon emissions due to transportation. It’s logical. Plus, we can save money by buying local sometimes too! Google the harvest calendar for your locale, like this one for Ohio, to find out what’s in season where you live. I feel your pain, fellow avocado lovers, and admit this one is hard for me to give up too. Maybe some day.

Air travel is a large contributor to greenhouse gas emissions too. We can limit our destination races that involve flying or turn business trips or pre-planned vacations into run-cations (like Pumpkin and Parsley!)

Don’t Be Trashy About Plastic

Our plastic footprint is the amount of plastic waste we produce. The first thing we can do to be a greener runner in this area is to recycle the plastic we do use. That’s the number one, Captain Obvious, easiest tip to follow when we’re trying to become more environmentally friendly. Mother Earth cannot digest plastic! When we throw plastic in the trash can, we are contributing to her slow death. Dramatic, but true. Not convinced? Here are some facts about plastic pollution that might change your mind.

An easy way for anyone to reduce plastic consumption is to limit buying processed foods in plastic. I know we can all be guilty of taking the convenient route with food, but come on. Do we really need to buy the pre-sliced apples wrapped in plastic? It’s only the rarest of occasion that we can’t be bothered to cut our own apple or just eat it — no knife necessary!

Another thing we can do is to take our own bags on our weekly grocery run and buy in bulk with our own containers if we can. I buy dry goods at a local market with my own jars for cents, literally cents. I buy coconut flakes, lentils, chickpeas, and cranberries for under two euros per kilogram, and I produce zero waste by taking my own containers.

We must research! Our wallet and planet will thank us. Plus all the jars in our cabinets will look pretty! Speaking of pretty, find a sweet re-usable water bottle and stick to it. Knowing the reality of buying plastic bottled water for each workout will make you want to cry.

Let’s Get Dirty!

Gear is definitely where we runners splurge, and making it last is one way to cut down on consumption. But what do we do when we’re finished with our shoes and clothes? An easy option is to give them away to family and friends. I recently saw Canadian Olympian Tasha Wodak post on Instagram advertising that she was giving away a ton of her stuff. She named the sizes and said, “If this fits you, come take it!” Gotta love those environmentally friendly Canadians. Another option is checking with our local running stores to see if they have a donation program that benefits local athletes in need.

We can also buy less by actually wearing our race shirts. Yes, even the ugly ill-fitting ones if we really want to be hardcore about it. We can also wear all the free hats, socks, and headlamps we win too. You win some, you lose some, but you should definitely try to reduce the size of that closet. Less gear = less waste!

Save water. Get dirty. Literally. We can wash our hair less and use our running clothes more than once before we wash them if we can. Ew gross, but not everything needs to be washed after each run.

Here’s something cool. We can run low-waste or no-frills races. Pimento sent me a link to the Council for Responsible Sport, which certifies races that are more environmentally responsible because they recycle, compost trash, or use renewable energy.

As for no-frills races, I mean races that don’t bother with medals and other swag, like the Broke Man’s Race Series in Central Ohio. The Broke Man’s homepage states, “We provide a positive, affordable and community oriented racing environment that’s low cost, low frills, but fully supported. We aim to bridge the gap between the road race atmosphere and the trail race atmosphere. Sustainability, affordability, community support, non-intimidation and tons of fun.” Ummm, sign me up!

Do you have any tips for running greener?

I'm a student of law and life. A Jill of all trades, master of none. But I'm hoping to master something, sometime. ;) Preferably a sub-23 5k and a sub-4 marathon!

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  1. The last race I ran was a cup free event. Instead of paper cups at the aid stations, they gave everyone reusable silicone cups in our pre-race bags. Even though I was carrying a water bottle, it was nice to have to stash away in my pocket and pull out at the aid stations for electrolytes or Coke. Granted, this was a 50k… I’m not sure how well this would work in a road race, but I thought it was pretty cool!

    1. Oh yeah, that’s interesting! I never thought of that before. That reminds me of the silicone baking cups I use haha. For road racing, it would be tricky, but we def need a solution to the thousands of cups used per race.

  2. Great post! One of my favorite local races has the option to pass on the shirt and give the $ to the charity instead. Who needs another tshirt? Our running group also collects energy bar and Gu wrappers and mails them off to TerraCycle to be recycled.

  3. This may be obvious, but don’t litter!!! I live near a lake in Dallas that sees a lot of races, and the gel packets my kids and I pick up after the race along our neighborhood streets are downright insane. Pack it in, pack it out applies in running too! (Not that any of the readers of this site would ever down a gel and toss the packet, but just in case…)

    1. It’s such a huge problem – and not just for races!! During peak marathon training season I often see gel packets and water bottles on the riverfront paths where I run. Blech.

      1. Gross. Come on runners, at least throw that shit away! I hate seeing runner litter on my beautiful park trails. No excuse when there are garbage cans within a mile at most from anywhere you are.

  4. Thank you for this article! It always breaks my heart to see the amount of used gel packets I throw away. I’d be super interested in exploring reusable options, if that’s ever something your collaborators have experience with and would be able to review!

      1. Beat me to it! Lol. Hammer sells a big jug and also a small flask that carries 5 servings of gel. You can also mix with water in the flask and get an easy-to-sip consistency. 🙂

    1. Great suggestion, Jeanne! I’ll look into it. 🙂 I’m interested in making my own fuel as well. I believe Cinnamon wrote about this awhile ago!

  5. I donate my used shoes to WaterStep, a nonprofit that trains people in developing countries how to use safe water solutions like water purification, health education, and well repair, empowering communities to take care of their own water needs for years. The shoes are sold to an exporter and the money used to fund Water Step projects.

    You can find existing donation locations or host a shoe drive, or encourage your local running store to put up a collection box: http://waterstep.org/shoes/