How to make your running shoe life cycle more eco-friendly

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For runners, there’s nothing more invigorating than lacing up your sneakers and heading out to enjoy the beats on the sidewalk with the great outdoors as your backdrop. But while you’re enjoying the majestic scenery, there’s one important thing to consider: Will your running shoes have an impact on the environment you love so much?

Overall, the footwear industry is responsible for 1.4% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Then there’s the athletic shoe segment, which, if it were a country, would be the 17th largest polluter in the world. When you consider the impact of running shoes, it’s easy to see why: Researchers at MIT have found that one pair of running shoes produces 30 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions—the equivalent of turning on a light bulb. 100 watts for a week.

Two-thirds of a running shoe’s carbon impact can be attributed to the manufacturing process, followed by a smaller percentage from purchasing or extracting raw materials. The reason for the unsustainable manufacturing industry is that factories rely on coal as the main source of electricity. Running shoes also have many small parts—65 to be exact—that take 360 ​​steps to assemble, most of which are plastics and synthetics that are not biodegradable and use a lot of carbon.

As a consumer, this fact can make finding a sustainable pair of running shoes difficult. Alyssa Beltempo, a slow fashion expert and sustainable stylist, says: “In terms of sustainability, running shoes are a difficult buy because of the many technical materials needed to maintain performance, often require synthetics derived from fossil fuels, making them difficult to recycle. .

It also doesn’t help that running shoes need to be changed regularly to keep you injury-free and feel your best, usually every 300 to 500 miles. Belttempo says this cut makes it hard to follow the number one rule of sustainable fashion: keep your clothes on for as long as possible. With that said, there are steps every runner can take to make the life cycle of their running shoe more eco-friendly.

Wear: Choose the best (sustainable) option for your feet

According to Belttempo, a shoe that isn’t worn isn’t going to last in the first place. So the best thing you can do for your feet—and the planet—is to take the time to find a pair of shoes that you know will accompany your life for the foreseeable future. “Buy the best shoes for your needs in the first place to reduce the potential for wasted resources,” she says. Instead of ordering a custom-made cute pair online, that might first mean visiting a local running store that can do a gait assessment to make sure you’re on the right track. choose the right option from the very beginning.

Now that you have information on what features you should look for in your perfect running shoe, let’s see if you can find a more sustainable sneaker that fits your box. . Belttempo says everyone’s running and fitness needs will be different, so it’s difficult to determine which material is best. “But looking for recycled synthetics (e.g. recycled polyester) or renewable fibers (e.g. corn fiber and algal blooms) is a great way to incorporate a gentle environmental footprint,” she says. without sacrificing performance.

These eco-friendly materials are becoming increasingly popular as more and more consumers prioritize sustainability in their workout routines. That includes sustainable sneaker brands like Allbirds, Veja and Lane Eight, as well as big-name brands you can find almost anywhere making strides on the sustainability front. . For example, Adidas is using recycled ocean plastic in its sneakers, and On Running recently developed the first shoe made from carbon emissions.

Finally, before making a purchase, look for brand transparency—“especially regarding their supply chain information,” says Belttempo. “Are factories audited by a third party? Are garment professionals paid a living wage? These are the questions I started when researching transparency.” When you find a match that matches your values, tap the “buy now” button.

Reuse: Make your running shoes last as long as possible

After you have a new pair of running shoes that fit your feet, the next step to making its life cycle more eco-friendly is to extend its life for as long as possible. Proper care for your sneakers not only benefits the planet, but also saves you money. Because as we all know, these shoes are not cheap.

First, resist the urge to wear running shoes outside of your workout sessions. Yes, they look great with your leggings while running at the grocery store, but you’re adding unnecessary mileage, which means you’ll need to change them sooner. Also, make sure you’re treating them well not only when you’re wearing them (try to ignore the mud and puddles!), but also when you’re not.

“Some of the things that help prolong the life of your sneakers are not drying them near a heat source — just letting them dry naturally in the sun,” says Belttempo. “Also wash them with a cloth and warm water, or check the laundry instructions if they can be put in the washing machine.”

Here’s another pro tip: Track when you buy your running shoes and how long they last. Your detective work might uncover something that helps with a future purchase, such as one brand that lasts significantly longer than another before crumbling.

Recycle: Get rid of your old running shoes sustainably

All sneakers will eventually break. With the right tools in hand, you can ensure their disposal does not negatively impact the environment. Because running shoes can be difficult to recycle due to the mix of materials each involves—think: rubber, foam, plastic, leather, and glue—check first the brand from which you bought them. .

Many brands now have recycling or recall programs to keep old shoes from going to landfill. For example, On Running has a subscription program that sends you a new pair when needed and allows you to return your old shoes, which will then be washed, honed, and turned into new sneakers . Then there’s Nike, which lets you drop off your shoes at participating retail stores. They will then be recycled or cleaned and donated, depending on how much wear and tear they have.

There are other options, too: You can donate gentle used shoes to Soles4Souls and One World Running, or recycle them through the American Textile Recycling Service. Maybe even switch them from running shoes to your running shoes or gardening shoes. Whatever you do, don’t throw them away. With a little more care, any running routine can become a little more eco-friendly.


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