The World’s Most Unsustainable Business Plan: Disposable Plastic Running Attire

A few weeks ago I traveled to Orlando to meet a friend who was preparing for the “Goofy.” Thousands converge on Disney this time of year for the annual marathon, but only a chosen few attempt the aforementioned Goofy: a half-marathon on Saturday followed by a full marathon on Sunday. I am happy to report that my friend sailed through with flying colors, injury-free, Mickey Mouse ears held high. You go girl.

Yes, racing nearly forty miles in less than forty-eight hours is, well, goofy. But, I get it. A runner myself (although by no means a marathoner) I understand the sense of accomplishment, the adrenaline, the overwhelming rush of doing something once thought impossible. Running your best race makes sense. Running your best race in plastic clothes that you will throw away at mile four? Not so much.

I was not shocked when my friend told me she wanted to run the Goofy or that she had to get up at 2:45 AM on both days in order to be at the start by 5:00 AM. The crowds and the thousands of people that converged on the Expo the day prior to the event did not surprise me. I was however, shocked and appalled by the “sheddables”; cheap clothes intended for removal and disposable (on the side of the road along with your plastic cup) mid-race. Made of polypropylene and polyethylene, yes, that’s right, plastic, these lightweight clothes are intended to keep you warm at the start and then be tossed on the side of the road at your convenience. Training for another run? No problem! Just buy more disposables. Each jacket is less than $11 a piece. Then again, would you take $11 out of your pocket and throw it on the roadside?

A quick online search took me to what seems to be the most popular company in the plastic outdoor-wear category: Sheddable Shell.  No doubt, they have competitors and are probably not the only ones in the clothes as trash game.

Is there any way to redeem this situation? What can we do to lessen the environmental burden caused by such convenience? I am sure there are efforts underway at some events to pick up the discarded clothes and donate them to charity. Perhaps others like to recycle these clothes. After all, they are plastic.

But, let’s be honest about this one – it’s just ridiculous. Clothes that you wear for less than an hour then toss on the side of the road? Really? Come on fellow runners, argue with me. Please prove me wrong. Make a sustainable business case for plastic disposable clothes and I will listen, but as I write I am unconvinced. Did the pioneer marathoners in the first half of this century wear throwaway clothes?

Leslie is a Sustainable MBA student at Green Mountain College. Study interests include sustainability, social responsibility and the power of corporate and non-profit partnerships to bring about positive change. Other areas of interest include social media, fundraising and public policy. She holds a Certificate in Nonprofit Management and is certified in the Global Reporting initiative for Sustainability Reporting. Additionally, she holds an MA in Organizational Management and a BS in Leisure Management. On the rare occasions when she is not studying, she enjoys writing, reading, running, nature walks and yoga. She hopes to use her skills, talents and education to make a positive impact with an environmentally and socially conscious organization. Feel free to connect with her on LinkedIn.