Hit the ground running in a pair of sustainable running shoes that protect your feet and knees from injury and help protect the ground you’re running on.
Running shoes are made to be durable. Throw on a pair and you can tackle just about any terrain, from the smooth pavement of a city street to the rocky paths of a deserted trail. But just like any piece of footwear, every pair of running shoes must eventually reach the end of the road.
This is bad news for the planet considering most running shoes are made with synthetic fibers like polyester, rubber, and nylon — types of plastic that aren’t biodegradable and derived from petroleum. This can leave any runner, seasoned or not, wondering what they should do with their worn sneakers.
Fret not. We’ve got the rundown on how to properly dispose of your old shoes, plus the best brands to shop for eco-friendly replacements.
How to recycle running shoes
Running shoes generally have a shorter lifespan compared to other types of footwear. On average, running shoes can log 300 to 500 miles before they must be replaced, or every four to six months.
And since 300 million pairs of shoes are thrown away each year, it’s safe to assume that most people toss their worn kicks when they’re done wearing them. Each pair of shoes can take upwards of 40 years to decompose, according to Wichita State University. But you don’t have to send your used sneakers to the landfill. Keep them from going to waste by donating or recycling them.
From Nike to TerraCycle and Got Sneakers, there are a number of recycling programs that recycle athletic sneakers, closing the loop on fashion. There are also a variety of donation programs that will take in gently used running shoes, including Asics, Soles4Souls, or local donation centers like Goodwill.
What makes a running shoe sustainable?
Recycling or donating your old sneakers as well as reducing consumption are great ways to prevent shoe waste. But when you do need to purchase a pair of running sneakers, there are a number of eco-friendly brands to shop.
When shopping for sustainable running shoes, be conscious of the materials used to produce them, Avoid materials like plastic-based polyester, nylon, and plastic, and look for running shoes that are made of renewable and plant-based materials, such as natural rubber, which is derived from rubber trees, and Tencel, a botanic fiber harvested from Eucalyptus trees.
You can also opt for shoes made from recycled materials, such as recycled polyester and nylon. Although they still pose a problem for the environment — they shed microplastics and can still wind up in landfills — they’re still a more favorable option to the production of new, petroleum-based fibers.
The ultimate guide to sustainable running shoes
Hit the open road with the help of these sustainable running shoe brands.
1. Reebok Floatride
Popular shoe brand Reebok is working to make strides in its sustainability department. It committed to eliminating its use of polyester by 2024. Its collection of Floatride sneakers are made with plant-based materials like castor beans, tree fibers, and natural rubber.
2. Nike Zoom Alphafly Next Nature
Nike’s sustainability journey is full of scenic stops, like the ultralight Nike Air Zoom Alphafly Next Nature made with at least 50 percent recycled content by weight. The footwear giant says it will still help you set new personal records, with a secure, breathable design. The shoes’ upper is made with Nike Flyprint 3D-printed technology to reduce waste. The foam sole feels light and cushioned at the toes and has rubber at the heel for durability.
3. Adidas Ultraboost by Stella McCartney
These super-responsive running shoes are made with recycled materials including Adidas’ Primegreen material and the company’s Boost cushioning. The shoe upper is made with 50 percent recycled material and contains no virgin polyester. Designed by sustainable designer Stella McCartney in her ongoing partnership with Adidas as the company moves to make 90 percent of its offerings fully sustainably by 2025.
From its athletic kicks down to its shoe boxes, which are made from post-consumer recycled materials, this Hong Kong-based footwear brand prioritizes sustainability throughout every stage of production. It creates its shoes using natural and recycled materials, partnering with innovators like Tencel and BLOOM—a company that transforms waste into bio-based materials.
5. Hylo Athletics
Carrying a number of vegan-certified running shoes, this footwear company makes buying sustainable sneakers easy. The brand gives a breakdown of the environmental footprint of each pair of its kicks, from what materials are used to create them to their impact, including how much carbon they produce.
6. Matt and Nat
Another luxury vegan brand, this Canadian brand is well-known for its stylish vegan leather bags. But the company’s line of kicks is also one to shop. Its Tess Vegan Running Shoes are made completely from lycra, a bio-based spandex.
Founded in 2009, this fashion brand, based in Madrid, Spain, is committed to using minimal resources—energy, materials, and transport—to craft its pieces. The company uses a number of sustainable materials like recycled tires and coffee grounds. The brand carries a number of vegan-friendly sneaker options, including the Prince Sneakers, which are made from recycled nylon, rubber, and EVA.
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