It was an admittedly small, simple move, albeit an important one for the leaders at the Fleet Feet store in Decatur, GA. 

Earlier this year, the downtown Decatur running shop placed recycling bins at its three main fit benches as well as a larger recycling bin near its entrance. The move helped to ensure that the cardboard and paper inserts typically accompanying running shoes stay out of the trash and are recycled instead. 

Though a modest step from one Georgia running shop, Alex Sessa, who coordinates sustainable initiatives at Fleet Feet Decatur and its Peachtree City sister store, believes these tiny moves produce a larger net effect.

Starting a Movement 

“It’s starting a movement in the right direction and finding the small things that can be done,” Sessa says, adding that the Fleet Feet Decatur and Peachtree City stores also recycle and upcycle used sneakers and recently began recycling performance nutrition packets as well. 

“As folks in the outdoor recreation community, we have the ability to do great things in sustainability and retain enjoyable experiences for the next generation.”

Run shops across the country are increasingly getting behind environmental initiatives, promoting such efforts to their communities and often finding a receptive audience excited to contribute to a healthier planet.

Cultivating Earth-Friendly Eco-Habits

TerraCycle and GU Energy Labs partnered together in 2015 to create the GU Energy Performance Nutrition Recycling Program (PNRP). Within its first six years, the partnership upcycled more than 1.7 million pieces of performance nutrition packaging. The packaging from energy gels, chews and drink mixes is shredded and melted into hard plastic to make new recycled products, such as shipping pallets, bike racks, park benches and garden beds.

Rock City Running in Little Rock, AR, is among a swelling number of running retailers participating in the PNRP effort, which also includes dozens of Fleet Feet stores, A Runner’s Mind in San Francisco, Wagner’s RunWalk in Tuscaloosa, AL, and Xtra Mile Running in Schaumburg, IL.

Rock City Running owner Bill Torrey and store manager Bill Bulloch grew disenchanted at seeing discarded nutrition packaging littering the ground at races and sought a more eco-conscious solution. They joined PNRP earlier this year.

“As runners, we are outside regularly and care about the environment we live in,” Torrey says. “Rock City Running believes this is a worthwhile cause and a small step in trying to improve the environment.”

At the Little Rock Marathon on March 5-6, Rock City Running placed specially marked nutrition packaging recycling boxes at the start lines, water stops and throughout the racecourse. Rock City Running will repeat that effort at this month’s Capital City Classic 10K and has plans to provide the recycling boxes at other local endurance events as well.

“Our hope is runners will embrace this type of recycling at races,” Torrey says.

Calling Out To Customers

While Xtra Mile Running is but a month into its involvement with PNRP, owner Chris Schiel is confident it will resonate with customers, especially if Xtra Mile can be consistent with its messaging to athletes about dropping off their used packaging at the store.

“Many of our customers have shared over the years that they use gels because it works best for them, but they wish it didn’t cause so much waste,” Schiel says.

The PNRP complements Xtra Mile’s longstanding efforts with USAgain as a shoe and apparel collection point. Since opening in April 2018, Xtra Mile has contributed more than 3100 pounds of shoes and apparel to USAgain for recycling. Schiel says many of Xtra Mile’s customers and run club members habitually donate their apparel and shoes, which helps power USAgain’s efforts to cloth the indigent, reduce greenhouse gases, preserve water resources and plant trees.

As for a direct business benefit, Schiel says there are occasional customers who discover Xtra Mile through the USAgain website, while the store also offers a $5 discount on purchases over $20 as an incentive to spur store visits and donations.

“The benefit is in reducing our carbon footprint both as a business and as a running community,” Schiel says.

Shoe Collectors Make A Green Move

In Virginia, Running Etc. has been collecting used running shoes for more than three decades. While most shoes stay local and head to area schools or homeless shelters, more “beat-up” pairs go to the MORE Foundation Group, a non-profit that collects old athletic shoes for re-use and for funding reforestation.  

A recent Certificate of Carbon Offset from the MORE Foundation to Running Etc. noted the Norfolk store’s donation of 1000 pairs of athletic shoes, which spurred the planting of 5000 trees and pulled down some 250,000 pounds of carbon each year. Running Etc. shared this message on its Instagram page with several commenters requesting more information or pledging to bring in shoes soon.

“We’re trying to tell a story that people don’t have to get rid of their old shoes and that we’ve got a good place for them,” Running Etc. owner Mike Robinson says.

With constant talk about climate change and global warming, Robinson can’t help but think efforts like this help protect the environment and elevate Running Etc.’s name.

“We don’t see people rolling their eyes at this,” he says. “It’s a service we provide and people are appreciative of it.”