Runners leave a lot of footprints, but there’s one that running shoe companies are starting to pay more attention to: the one on the environment. Running shoes are made with plastic, polyester and synthetic glues. All of those products take energy and oil to produce, waste is created in the process, and when they’re cycled out of use — and runners can go through two or three pairs of shoes each year — they can end up in landfills.
But there is a growing list of options for finding a fit for a running shoe that’s a little more environmentally friendly. Athletic shoe manufacturers have started making running shoes with biodegradable soles, water-based adhesives and post-consumer recycled materials, and are shipping them out in recycled packaging.
Brooks Sports Inc. pioneered BioMoGo technology, launched in 2008, a biodegradable athletic shoe midsole that breaks down in landfills 50 times faster than conventional midsoles.
But while running shoe companies are paying more attention — and this year’s Bolder Boulder is trying to reduce its impact — runners don’t seem to be shifting their buying patterns to match.
“Running shoes are just one of those necessities, it’s one of those things people have to have, and if you can get a shoe that’s made out of 100 percent recycled material that didn’t perform well and got you injured, you’re not going to wear the thing,” says R.L. Smith, co-owner of In-Step, which sells sports accessories and athletic footwear, including Brooks Sports’ “Green Silence,” a shoe made of 100 percent recycled materials.
“People love the shoe,” Smith says.
“But people aren’t buying it because it is a recycled shoe.”
The selling point for the shoe is its appeal to runners looking for a minimalist shoe — one that mimics or approximates running barefoot.
“People are more concerned with the performance of the shoe, what the shoe is going to do for them,” Smith tells Boulder Weekly.
Regardless, even athletics giant Nike has started making shoes that use some pre- and post-consumer recycled materials, water-based adhesives and recycled polyester, according to the company website. They’re also making leaner, meaner running shoes that use less material as a way to be nicer to runners who want to lift less weight with each step, and nicer to a planet that could use a little less waste floating around. Their packaging has also been trimmed down to use 23 percent less material, and those iconic orange boxes are 100 percent recycled cardboard.
But even eco-friendly shoes need a place to die.
Many local running stores partner with Boulder’s One World Running, which sends new and nearly new athletic shoes, shirts and shorts to Africa. If the shoes are not nearly new enough, they’re sent through Boulder’s Eco-Cycle program, which grinds down the plastic and reuses it through programs like Nike’s Reuse- A-Shoe.
Since 1990, Nike has collected 25 million pairs of shoes through Reuse- A-Shoe, which converts the plastic from running shoes into surfaces for tracks, basketball courts, gym floors and playgrounds, and has started appearing in new products. There are drop-off locations at the Nike stores in Lakewood and Loveland.