The Footprints We Leave Behind

It seems like I hear a lot of talk about our carbon footprint. I’m not a political activist and don’t really have a “cause” that I have a connection to. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve seen someone so passionate about a cause that they broke down in tears crying. Their cause didn’t happen to grab me the same way it did them, but I’ve thought to myself many times since then, I wish I could be that passionate about a cause. About anything really.  While I might not find myself that passionate about a specific cause, I do have a natural inclination to want to take care of our planet and nature that I love and enjoy.

Let’s talk a minute about that carbon footprint of ours. What exactly is that? Wikipedia describes it this way, “A carbon footprint is the total greenhouse gas emissions caused by an individual, event, organization, service, or product, expressed as carbon dioxide equivalent.” As I started to look deep into this, it becomes an endless rabbit hole that quite frankly is way too complicated for me. I’m not a science person, talking about CO2 and fossil fuel burning leaves me lost. It all leads to climate change and the short of it for me is that it all has to do with taking care of our planet. Finally, something I can understand and get behind.

I love our planet! I grew up as a kid loving the great outdoors. I could not get enough of it. As a child we were pretty much expected to play outside and no one worried about where we went or what we did, just be home by dark. So, enjoying our great earth is not something I have to think about wanting to take care of, it’s part of a logical belief that we should all do so.

As a hiker and trail runner, enjoying nature and being in that great outdoors is my love. Even my very life blood. The trails of nature are where I’m the happiest. “Leave no trace” is a phrase most every trail runner has heard and endorses. We can’t enjoy the trails if they are not taken care of by the very people who use them.

So, if we are going to take good care of Mother Earth and reduce our carbon footprint, what does that look like for the average person? The everyday trail runner? Are we going to get an electric car, never fly on a plane again or maybe ride a bike more and drive less? All these are great ways to reduce our carbon footprint but maybe not where we are going to jump in to start with.

Most of us have heard of the 5 R’s; refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle and rot. It all starts by learning another R and that’s to rethink. Going zero waste is a great step towards making a positive impact on our environment so let’s look at each of these R’s from a trail runners perspective and see some simple ways we can impact the footprints we leave behind.

Refuse – The first step should be to reduce the amount of waste in the first place. Once it’s created it requires energy and resources to address it.  Use a reusable cup at races, even if they might provide paper cups, simply refusing to use them is a first step. We can refuse to use plastic disposable drop bags and instead use one that is reusable and retrieve it after the race, instead of disposing it.  Develop a simple mindset of refusing to use things that create waste if we can use another greener option.

Reduce – This is the simplest way to make small changes. Always be asking yourself, “what are ways we can reduce our waste?” Don’t buy small individually wrapped items to eat but rather buy in bulk size and put in a small bag to carry. Refilling a water bottle to drink from and avoid buying bottled water whenever possible. If you take a look around, you can find lots of simple ways to cut down and reduce the amount of waste you leave behind.

Reuse – This is also a fairly easy way to make an impact. Simply by reusing something, the affect can literally be having no waste at all. Those baggies we use to carry our food or snacks can be used again. Our water bottles can be refilled thus, used many more times. Even by donating our used running items allows them to be reused/repurposed rather than thrown into a landfill. Flagging used by Race Directors on a course can be reused. There are an endless number of small things we can do to have a positive impact. Think about what you throw in the trash and see if possibly there is a way to reuse it.

Recycle – For our part to recycle items it takes a bit more effort. Obvious things like cans and plastic bottles, or other plastic products, along with cardboard can all be recycled. It does require a little research as to where to recycle them and exactly what they take. A little effort on recycling goes a long way on the impact we can have on our planet.

Rot – Composting is a another option and is also great for gardens with a simple to set up compost bin. The old hikers’ motto “Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints” doesn’t make an exception for food scraps. When we walk out of aid stations with food like apples, oranges and bananas we should not toss the peels but carry them out with us instead. An apple core can take up to two months to decompose and an orange peel or banana skin up to two years. It’s not only trash and an eye sore but also a cue to others that it’s not a big deal to litter. Natural litter is still litter and litter begets litter. Even if there is not an option to compost them, tossing them on the trails is not an alternative.

So, there you go. A few beginning ideas on how we can put the 5 R’s into action as trail runners. Challenge yourself to find many more ways. Sometimes taking care of Mother Earth is as close as picking up trash left behind by others and making sure we don’t inadvertently drop trash ourselves. Let’s challenge ourselves and consider what we can do to reduce our carbon footprint. The only footprints we leave behind should simply come from the bottom of our shoes.  Now, let’s go for a run.

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