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.

6 responses

  1. In South Africa runners cover themselves with a black plastic bag, usually used for rubbish (unfortunately with holes cut for arms, so they’re useless for collecting those little plastic sachets of water we litter the roads with). The way my friends and I do it is to get a friend or family member to wait near the start of the race and take our jackets off us. I’m sickened by this idea (not only because $11 is actually quite a lot of money!)

  2. Hi Michelle,
    You BET $11 is alot of money. Do you know how many Lattes that will buy me? Well, not many. But, seriously, I agree with you-there are other items that can be repurposed-things you already have in your home. And, of course, the BEST idea is as you say-have supporters line up to take the items from you. Also, I would personally boycott races that did not have a good recycle program in place. If the organizers do not take it upon themselves to recycle the clothes and cups that are thrown by runners after the race then they are not deserving of my racing fee. Too many other good races out there to support!

  3. yes..its certainly ridiculous…Whats the point when things contrast to such a degree?? Companies are creating such fancy stuff without caring for environment while there is loads of research and effort happening on saving our earth from such harmful chemicals of plastic..
    We already have lots to clean, not anymore pls..At this stage, it is the “awareness” that is required more than R&D.

  4. It depends on what happens after it is tossed on the ground. You are aware that many races of the this type collect clothing and then donate it to the poor. IO have used this product in the past and it is durable. I do not tear the jecket off, but use the zipper, take if off as I owuld any jacket9 just while running) , and then toss it to the side.

  5. I am considering using this product for the NYC marathon start area. At this race, all articles are collected and donated or disposed of. In don’t disagree with concerns regarding the environment, but I feel that runners would understand and appreciate the use of these products (as long as they are disposed of properly). You put in months of training and you need to keep warm and dry before these events where no one but the athlete is allowed in the staging areas. It’s not like a local 5K where you can warm up, leave your stuff in the car and jog to the start. It may look ridiculous, but I’d rather be warm and dry than start a marathon cold, wet and ready for an injury.

  6. Hey, I’ve had my sheddable shell jacket for over a year and have used it about 10 times. I don’t throw it away! When I don’t need it, I ball it up flat and stick it in the waist of my pants. It looks a little rough but it’s kept me dry.

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