Look, I get it. I’ve run plenty of wet, sloppy trail races. You expect a mess, so you bring along an old pair of shoes you intend to “retire” immediately after the race. You cross the finish line, change into clean and dry clothes, have a celebratory banana and beer, and then into the trash go the shoes, and your socks too, and maybe even your shirt.
But once they go into the trash, the opportunity to reuse them or donate them to a worthy cause is likely lost forever. Unless the event has a Zero Waste team, and they have time after sorting food waste and recyclables to search though the trash, and they feel so inclined to retrieve the dirty, soaked clothes.
“You mean you really want them?” I heard you asking. Well, actually, yes.
Here’s some friendly, and I hope useful, advice to any runners reading this who wonder how clothes that are wet, muddy, torn, or otherwise rendered undesirable can be salvaged and sent to a better place than a landfill.
Option 1 – Leave Them Where They Can Be Found
You mean toss them on the ground? Sort of. Instead of putting castoff clothing in the trash bin, leave it next to the bin. Just make sure it’s one managed by the race staff. Then they can decide if they want to salvage your clothes.
Many races, including large marathons like Chicago and Boston, routinely collect used clothes. Runners are informed that clothing they cast off is collected and donated to Goodwill or other thrift shops. So when I’m running along and see gloves, shirts, and caps along the course I’m not worried, because I know it will be picked up by race staff. Once it’s inside a black trash bag, however, the odds of it being reused go way down.
Option 2 – Give Them to a Race Staff Member
Even if the race doesn’t have a Zero Waste program, there may be someone on the staff who’s willing to collect the clothes and get them donated. Ask before you pitch those clothes. There might even be a special bin for clothing that you didn’t see.
Option 3 – Take Them With You
I know, you don’t want to toss muddy clothes into your car and have to deal with them. But you could bring along a plastic bag, give them a cleanup at home, let them dry, and donate them yourself. If the clothes are no longer wearable, check with your local recycling center. Many of them accept worn textiles to be reprocessed into newer clothes or as stuffing.
What Race Staffs Can Do With Used Clothing
Okay, the event’s over and you have a bunch of clothing in various states of cleanliness and wear. What now?
Clean clothes in wearable condition can be given to charities or thrift shops. What they cannot sell is often sent overseas or to a recycling plant.
If there’s a North Face store near you, go there! They accept used clothing via their Clothes the Loop program, and they told me they take clothes and shoes in any condition, even dirty or muddy. They even give you a 10% off coupon!
And Nike takes old shoes, grinds them up, and turns them into artificial turf and other surfaces.
And finally, you just might score a few nice things yourself. Thanks to whoever tossed out a practically new pair of Saucony Mirage shoes in my size last year. I’ve logged over two hundred miles in them and they’re still going strong. And my niece who runs for Michigan Tech is grateful for the free pair of Hokas that fit her!