This morning I went for a run in the woods. The sun was shining but the ground was still saturated from all the rain we got over the past two days, so the smell of decomposing leaves was heavy in the air. I prefer trail running to road running because it calls for more focus and coordination, and because there isn’t much traffic out on a wooded path. My run is usually my favorite part of a day. I always say that if I could bottle the post-run feeling and sip it all day long, I’d never have a care in the world. I like that it’s a form of exercise that requires little gear. I can throw on my running clothes and be out the door. But the most important piece of equipment that a runner has (the one that takes the most pounding) also makes the most trash.
Carbon rubber, polyurethane, ethylene vinyl acetate, nylon, polyester, and thermoplastic urethane are some of the materials used to make modern running shoes. Most spent pairs go straight to a landfill.When I got home today and kicked mine off, I noticed they’re really starting to fall apart. I’ve worn through the foam on the heel of the insoles and the treads on the soles have flattened out since I bought them almost three years ago. I do own another pair that I love–a ‘minimal’ running shoe I picked up this past spring when I became intrigued by the argument that barefoot running is beneficial for joints, but couldn’t imagine sacrificing the soles of me feet. My minimal shoes are not completely sealed on the outsoles, so water creeps in when the ground is wet. I don’t mind damp feet in warmer weather, but it can be unbearable in the cold.
So the time has come to do some more research. I’d like to find a shoe that is made from minimal material, but can stand up to winter in New England. I realize this is a tall order. I’ve started looking into it and while I haven’t yet found a pair that meets my criteria, I have found some information about the recent efforts of some athletic shoe companies to reduce waste in a toxic industry.
Puma and Brooks seem to be taking the lead. Both have redesigned their shoe packaging so that customers walk out with less trash around their new footwear. In 2008, Brooks released a shoe with a midsole that supposedly biodegrades 50 times faster than conventional midsoles. In November, Puma announced that they are working to develop the first completely compostable running shoes. And I came across these leather and canvas biodegradable, blooming sneakers.
I will keep looking for shoes that are right for me. When it is finally time to get rid of my old ones I think I’m going to bring them to the Reuse-A-Shoe drop-off location about 10 miles away from where I live. Meanwhile I daydream about taking up yoga–a truly barefoot form of exercise, but I don’t think I could ever completely kick my running habit.