Eco-Friendly Practices for Runners

Have your past few summers been a bit too hot and miserable for running? Climate change is to thank for that. Scientists predict that, by 2030, the climate will be 1.5 degrees C (~3 degrees F) warmer. By the end of the 21st century, the grim prediction is a rise of 4 degree C. For runners, that means unseasonably hot summer marathons, damaged trails, and worse. While the root of the problem is in corporations, runners can still adopt eco-friendly practices. Small changes add when many people do them!

Perfection is not the goal, as it is wholly unattainable. The unfortunate reality of modern life is that none of us can live a completely carbon-neutral life.  However, small actions are sustainable; by committing to consistent small actions, you can make a difference in climate change. 

This is not a comprehensive list of eco-friendly practices for runners. Rather, it provides a simple place to start. You can combat climate change through your shopping habits, vehicle choices (we just purchased a hybrid!), electricity use, and other means. 

Eco friendly practices for runners
Go Cupless When Racing

Paper and plastic cups generate a tremendous amount of waste at races. According to the BAA, the 2017 Boston Marathon distributed 1.4 million disposable cups – and that is just one marathon!  

More and more races are going cupless – eliminating paper cups from aid stations. They provide water, but request that runners bring their own containers. 

You can make any race cupless for you. Simply carry your own fluids on course. Hydration vests and handheld bottles are lightweight options for carrying your own fluids. As a bonus, you can rely on the sports drink you use during training. Of course, you may still need to grab some cups if you have a lighter vest or bottle. But any reduction in cup use matters!

Opt for Plastic-Free Products When You Can

Plastic is everywhere – which is bad, considering the damage that plastics cause to the environment. Plastic production is a greenhouse-gas intensive process. 40% of plastic use is for packaging, which means those plastics are immediately disposed. The disposal of plastics – particularly landfill and incineration – releases a tremendous amount of greenhouse gas emissions (upwards off 5.9 million metric tons). 

Any small amount of plastic reduction makes a difference, especially if you reduce plastic consumption of repeated-use goods (personal hygiene, sports nutrition, etc).

Adapt an Eco-Friendly Diet

According to a 2015 article in Frontiers in Nutrition, agriculture (particularly meat and dairy) are responsible for 30% of greenhouse gas emissions. Limiting your intake of animal products can reduce this number by up to one-third.

That is not to say that every runner needs to go vegan, especially if you need dairy and beef in your diet for health reasons. However, you can make tweaks to your diet and adapt a semi-vegetarian, eco-friendly diet.

  • Eat vegetarian a few meals per week (or take it up a step: eat vegetarian/vegan before dinner)
  • Opt for plant-based protein powders instead of whey
  • Choose pea-protein milk or oat milk instead of almond milk or cow’s milk
  • Minimize food waste: buy only what you need, compost when possible
  • Grow a home garden and shop at your local farmer’s market
Recycle Your Sport Nutrition

Gels, chews, and bars all come individually wrapped. Unfortunately, many companies do not provide these in bulk containers. However, TerraCycle (in partnership with GU) does offer a recycling program for sports nutrition waste! You simply print a free label and ship your used, empty sports nutrition packaging to them. You will need to rinse all wrappers before shipping. 

Advocate for Policy Change

Over the past twenty years, more than 70% of greenhouse gas emissions came from one hundred companies. ExxonMobil, Shell, BP, and Chevron are the primary culprits. We alone can only make small changes; systemic change needs to occur to make a tremendous difference in climate change. 

One simple step? Write to your elected officials and advocate for policies that protect the environment. If you are not sure where to start, advocacy groups such as Protect Our Winters provide guides for how to take action.

Runner’s Round Up

Join Mile by Mile, Confessions of a Mother Runner, Runs with Pugs, Coach Debbie Runs, and myself for the weekly Runner’s Round-Up link-up. Each week, join in a link-up for running posts. 

  • Your link must be running related. We will remove unrelated links.
  • You must link back to your hosts. It’s common courtesy and a lot more fun!
  • Spread the link-up love by visiting at least two other running bloggers. Leave a comment and find new blogs to read!
  • Use hashtags #running and #RunnersRoundup to stay in touch and promote your content!

You are invited to the Inlinkz link party!

Click here to enter

What eco-friendly practices do you adopt? 

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10 Responses

  1. These are great ideas! I’ve never heard of chewable toothpaste before. Sounds interesting! I am really thinking about bringing my own water to races moving forward, especially while COVID is still a concern.

  2. I have a Salomon re-usable cup that I used at my last race. It can be easily squashed into a pocket and doesn’t break or leak.
    It’s a little thing, but if thousands of runners start doing that, it’s one step in the right direction!

  3. Great tips! Looks like you and Janelle were on the same wavelength! I think this past year has made us even more wasteful–all the delivery boxes, for example. Grocery stores refusing to let us use our own bags. I’m hoping we return to becoming more conscientious.

  4. I love these ideas. Some of them I’ve never heard of! I can picture a day where we look back in disbelief that we used to leave thousands of cups all over the road after every race.

  5. I’ve tried to be much more aware of my consumption in the last year or so. At Ragnar this weekend they really stressed not leaving a footprint in the woods where they held the race or at the campsite, so we were very vigilant about trash and recycling and cleaning up, etc. And most races I’ve done so far in 2021 have gone cupless, either handing out small water bottles with trash cans close by for runners or encouraging runners to bring their own refillable hydration bottles like Ragnar did.

  6. Such great ideas Laura. There is so much power in what individuals can do. And small changes added together will make some impact. I’m not naturally eco-friendly but thankfully, my husband and kids are on the extreme end of eco-friendly, so they’re keeping me in check!

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