Eco-friendly running shoes have hit the market appealing to the environmentally friendly runner.

Thinking about our carbon footprint as an individual is super important if we want our kids to have any chance of living a life like we do. What we buy, the amount of stuff we buy and what we throw in the bin all plays a part.

One of the biggest and most frequent purchases that runners make is of course the running shoe.  If you are logging the k’s and running pretty regularly, you would know that they really don’t last very long.

Read more on  how to design a training plan that suits you.

Every time I purchase a new pair once I notice the tread has worn.  I think to myself.  Seriously already?? Plus generally running shoes aren’t cheap, making running shoes one of the biggest expenses involved with the sport.

There are now a number of running shoes that are made using recycled materials like recycled plastic that are being marketed to those of us that are environmentally conscious.

The average running shoe has a carbon footprint of 14 kg of carbon dioxide-equivalents (CO2e), which means if you are buying 5 – 6 pairs of runners per year (which is what the average person is doing) you are contributing approximately 84 CO2e per year to the environment.  That’s the same amount emissions from driving your car 334 k’s.  Which if you live in Australia, might not seem like a lot, but it all adds up.

What are your options when looking for new running shoes and thinking about your environmental impact?

Eco Friendly Running Shoes

So what’s the difference between a regular running shoe and a shoe marketed as eco friendly?  Eco friendly shoes usually have part of the shoe made from recycled plastic.  The recycled plastic, depending on the brand is sourced from used shoes, recycled plastic bottles or recycled ocean plastic. The manufacturing process is the same as a regular running shoe, which is not so eco friendly thanks to most shoes being manufactured in coal fired plants in China (read more here). However, less energy is required to use recycled polyester than virgin materials which means slightly less carbon dioxide is emitted per pair of shoes.

Check out the list below of five eco friendly shoes that use recycled materials.

Adidas Ultra Boost Parley

The Adidas Ultra Boost Parley is a shoe that Adidas have have released in collaboration with Parley for the Oceans.  An environmental organisation that collects and sorts recovered plastic bottles from beaches and coastal communities that is then used to create Parley Ocean Plastic TM, which is then made into Primeknit material used to in a number Adidas eco friendly running shoes.  Adidas has a goal to use 100% recycled polyester in their products by 2024, currently 95% of the upper part of the shoe is made from recycled plastic bottles. The Adidas Ultra Boost is a neutral performance shoe with comfortable cushioning.

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Nike Air VaporMax

The Nike Air VaporMax 2020 Flyknit is a neutral road running shoe made using Nike’s Flyknit yarn.  The yarn is made from plastic bottles that are recycled into polyester thread.  Manufacturing waste such as recycled foams and recycled rubbers are also used. The Nike Air Sole is made from at least 75% recycled thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU). Nike have a large product range using Flyknit including both women’s running shoes and men’s running shoes.

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Brooks Adrenaline GTS 20

Brooks running shoes incorporate a minimum of 20% recycled polyester and biodegradable midsoles in their shoes.  The biodegradable midsoles degrade 50 times faster than the usual ethylene vinyl acetate (EVA) midsoles when they are disposed in a landfill under anaerobic conditions (i.e. no oxygen). Brooks Adrenaline GTS 20 is a support road running shoe for overpronators.

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Allbirds Tree Dasher

Allbirds know for their uber cool eco friendly sneaker have stepped up to make a running shoe.  The Allbirds Tree Dasher is a carbon neutral shoe (the only one I know of) which is achieved through using natural materials and buying offsets.  The natural materials Allbirds shoes use a sugarcane sole called SweetFoam to make up the midsole and FSC Certified eucalyptus trees make up the shoe upper.

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Vivobarefoot Primus Trail

Vivobarefoot are minimalist shoes that simulate barefoot running. The Vivobarefoot Primus Trail is a trail running shoe that has a recycled PET textile lining and an Algae Bloom Performance insole.  Being a minimalist shoe, less materials are used which equals a win for the environment.

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Durable Running Shoes

The thing with eco friendly shoes is that they still aren’t that great for the planet.  They generally cut emissions by less than 10%.  So what are the alternatives if you are concerned about your environmental impact? Buying less is definitely going to have a better result for the environment.  If you are running a lot this can be difficult!  One way to buy less, instead of running less (I know probably not going to happen) is to buy more durable running shoes that last longer.

Most shoes are expected to last between 500 km (310 miles) – 700 km (434 miles). Conveniently CHOICE consumer group conducted a sole endurance test for the most durable running shoes after 120 km of use (read more about the test here).  These were the top three recommended most durable running shoes.

Working on building your base? Read more on how to run slow, build your base and stay healthy.

New Balance Fresh Foam Roav Knit

The New Balance Fresh Foam Roav Knit is a long lasting running shoe which had by far the best sole endurance and were CHOICEs top pick for durability.  They are a neutral road running shoe, made with New Balance’s NDurance outsole.

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Asics Dynaflyte 4

The Asics Dynaflyte 4 was the second running shoe with the best sole endurance.  It is a neutral lightweight running shoe designed for road running.

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New Balance FuelCell Propel

The New Balance FuelCell Propel was the third running shoe that scored highly on the sole endurance test.  It is targeted at midfoot and rearfoot strikers with a lightweight rubber outsole.

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Tip: It is worth tracking the durability of your favourite running shoe brand and making a note of how long they last before you have to throw them out.  There are quite a few different apps you can use or you can just right it down.  Tracking your k’s will make you mindful of how long they actually last and figure out if another brand could potentially be a better option if you are keen to buy less shoes.

Thinking about doing a virtual race? Read about the benefits here.

Second Hand Running Shoes

Buying second hand can be a bit hit and miss, though this is the best form of using recycled products.  I have to say it is amazing how many people sell brand new shoes that they have hardly worn because they don’t fit quite right.

If we know what we like in a running shoe or have a specific brand we like to wear, it takes a short amount of time to do a quick search on Ebay, Gumtree or a Running Buy, Swap and Sell Facebook group as a first point of call.  Using recycled running shoes and avoiding new purchases is definitely one of the BEST ways to reduce your environmental impact.

Worn out? Now what?

There comes that time when our shoes are worn out, most people find other uses after their running shoe life ends for activities like gardening or walking before they make it into the bin.

Another tip: definitely check the soles of your runners regularly, if the tread looks worn in any area, it’s time for a change otherwise injuries may sneak up on you.

Reducing our waste and passing on our used goods for other uses is an important step in reducing waste that gets dumped in landfills.  There is not an infinite amount of landfill airspace and the amount of waste that each person on average currently generates (something like 600 kgs per year) means that we need to get creative as a society at diverting and reusing our generated waste (besides obviously generating unnecessary waste in the first place). Plus these shoes aren’t breaking down anytime soon, even the eco friendly shoes.  I’m talking at LEAST 1,000 years. What can you do with your runners instead of throwing them in the rubbish pile?

Donate Them

If your shoes are still in good condition (i.e. the sole is not all worn out and their are holes in the fabric), then why not donate them to someone in need?  You can drop them at the local op-shop or put them in a charity shoe recycling bin (tip: tie the shoes together so they don’t get separated). Shoes for the Planet Earth are a non-for-profit organisation in Australia that will accept your running shoes and send them to those in need around the world.

Recycle Them

Runners can totally be recycled. Nike have a program called Nike Reuse-a-shoe where you can drop off old runners at selected store locations in the USA and Europe.  In Australia you can take then into many Rebel Sports Stores and put them into Nike Reuse-a-shoe or Save our soles bins. The rubber, foam and textiles from the shoes are transformed into Nike Grind materials, which are then used in the base of new athletic surfaces.

There is also a new shoe recycling initiative in Australia called Save our Soles where a number of major sporting brands have teamed up with the Australian Sporting Goods Association to improve supply-chain sustainability.  Old shoes are collected (only in Victoria at the moment) and recycled into reusable components like new sporting products.

Step in the right direction

The type of shoe we buy and where we buy our shoes from makes a difference to the impact we have on the environment.  Generating less waste by avoiding unnecessary purchases will always have the best results, though we all have to wear runners.

Making a conscious decision, whether it’s supporting businesses producing eco friendly runners who are using recycled materials, opting for more durable running shoes or buying second hand is a step in the right direction.  Small actions do make a difference. What you do with your shoes at the end of their life instead of throwing them in the bin is also an important step in a running shoe’s life cycle.


Choice Consumer Group, Running Shoes Test, February 2020.

Cheah, Lynette & Duque Ciceri, Natalia & Olivetti, Elsa & Matsumura, Seiko & Forterre, Dai & Roth, Richard & Kirchain, Randolph. (2012). Manufacturing‐Focused Emissions Reductions in Footwear Production. Journal of Cleaner Production. 44. 10.2139/ssrn.2034336.


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