Many runners relish the fact that our sport of choice is relatively environmentally friendly. For example, running on pavement doesn’t use electricity, runners often donate old shoes to be reused or recycled, and races are going “green” in increasing numbers to reduce the amount of paper used. One thing many of us probably haven’t thought of, however, is the environmental impact of the hundreds of thousands (and possibly millions) of race t-shirts given away at races, normally as part of a race entry.
This article about the burden, environmental and otherwise, of excess clothing donated to places like Goodwill and the Salvation Army got me thinking about the race shirts I’ve donated over the years, either because they fit poorly, they were near-duplicates of the same race’s shirts of years past, or because my dresser drawer for running gear is already overflowing. I’ve always considered donation a better option than simply throwing a shirt away, as it feels morally sound to give rather than to trash, right?
It seems I was wrong. This quote from the article says it all:
“Most Americans are thoroughly convinced there is another person in their direct vicinity who truly needs and wants our unwanted clothes. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Charities long ago passed the point of being able to sell all of our wearable unwanted clothes. According to John Paben, co-owner of used-clothing processer Mid-West Textile, ‘They never could.’”
This got me thinking about the sheer number of race t-shirts and technical shirts that others around the country and even the world might be donating to charity organizations in hopes that their race trash might be someone else’s treasure, or at least eventually someone else’s well-being. In reality, our donations are contributing to a surprising amount of waste. And even in my own tiny apartment, there’s a stack of tech tees and various other race t-shirts taking up valuable space in what’s essentially a graveyard of race gear I’ll never wear.
This fall, and going forward, I think I’m going to consider the no-t-shirt option when it’s offered. As much as I like the idea of having a shirt to commemorate an event, I find that the shirts mean little to nothing in the long term, especially when women’s tech shirts in particular never fit comfortably around my swimmer’s shoulders.
Even though race directors and most runners will continue to demand a t-shirt or technical shirt option at many races around the country, I think we should think twice about the inevitable waste involved in this practice. There are, of course, many other things runners and race directors can do to reduce waste (I shudder when I read about races offering plastic cups to runners on a course), but this is something an individual can opt out of—most of the time—to make his or her environmental footprint a tiny bit smaller.