tent and hammock outdoors

Eco-Friendly Sports & Outdoors

Eco-Friendly Sports Equipment

I think sustainable sports equipment can be a very tricky sell. We love sports in our house, and are very picky about the equipment we use, as I’m sure most current and former athletes are. Plus, when you’re on a team, you don’t have much, if any, choice about what equipment and uniforms you get.

However, there are some ways to be sustainable in this arena (pun intended).

Reduce waste by purchasing eco-friendly gear

Again, options here are few and far between. I have found a couple interesting options online.

  • EcoSports – This company makes balls out of vegan leather, and their products are biodegradable, recyclable, non-toxic, chemical free (BPA, Lead, & Phthalates Free).
  • Waboba – Their sports balls are made from jute and natural leather. To be honest, jute is pretty coarse and I’m curious how these would fare on your hands, so someone needs to try them out and report back.

Another way to look at sustainable sports gear is to buy quality made items. Spending a few extra dollars to purchase a well-made product is a worthwhile investment. This and taking care of your gear increases the likelihood that it will last longer and thus not need to be replaced as frequently.

For eco-friendly workout clothes, head over to sustainable clothing to learn about how to pick eco-friendly items.

Reuse gear

Borrowing, renting, or buying used gear is a way to extend the life of items. It will save you money and prevent you from buying things you may not actually use for long, especially when it comes to kids and how quickly they grow out of everything.

Find local sports consignment store or online marketplace for lightly-used items gear and equipment. When you are done with equipment, don’t let it collect dust in your garage or closet. Give away or donate, sell, or trade it back in. Play It Again Sports is a great option.

Recycling sports gear

Not a lot of sports-related items can be recycled when they are too worn to be used. Anything metal can be taken to a scrap metal recycler; unusable uniforms and other types of clothing can be recycled with other textiles.

The only types of balls I can find that can be recycled are tennis balls. Recycle Balls recycles them, but you need to accumulate at least 100 balls to get a “free” shipping label (with a minimum $5 donation). Check with a local tennis club; mine collects balls for recycling.

Notes on specific sports gear

Golf

Golf Balls

Golf balls are not recyclable. Some are labeled as eco-friendly or biodegradable but whether that is actually true, I don’t know. Plus, I know purists like my husbands will only play with a certain brand of balls, so there’s that.

Golf Clubs

Sell or donate unwanted golf clubs. If clubs are unusable, they can be sold for scrap metal.

Skateboards

There are multiple artists that make pretty cool furniture and other items from recycled skate decks. I contacted a couple I found online and you can send them any old decks you might have instead of throwing them away.

Winter Sports

  • If you only ski rarely, consider renting a ski jacket or pants, along with the rest of the gear.
  • Find a ski swap in your area to trade in old gear or find deals on used items. Ski shops often sell used gear as well.

Exercise Equipment

Exercise/Stability Ball

Most exercise balls are made from vinyl, or PVC, which often contains toxic chemicals, in addition to being is really difficult for consumers to recycle. EcoWise makes exercise balls with burst-resistance TPR (Thermo Plastic Rubber) material, which is free of latex, PVC and phthalates.

Home Gym Equipment

Donate, sell, or if broken/unusable, take to a scrap metal recycler or utilize a junk removal service that will recycle what they can, such as Junk King.

Yoga

Hugger Mugger is the place to go for eco-friendly yoga products. Some of their offerings include:

Other PVC-free options:

Check out this list of 50 ways to reuse your yoga mat.

campsite with tents, chairs, and firepit

Sustainable Outdoor Equipment

I know outdoor enthusiasts can be very selective about their gear too, and luckily there are a lot of eco-friendly outdoor equipment options for you nature-lovers.

The first key to sustainability is to care for your gear properly. REI has a bunch of articles on gear care and repair to help you out; NEMO also has helpful information.

As with anything else, buying used stuff is both a budget-friendly and green way to shop. Find a local consignment or other marketplace to buy or trade-in items, or most large brands offer their own trade-in programs. Many of these companies also offer repair services to extend the life of your goods.

Eco-Friendly Gear Brands

Patagonia

Patagonia has long been a sustainability leader not only in the outdoor gear and clothing sectors, but is consistently ranked as one of the most sustainable companies in the world. Its founder, Yvon Chouinard, made news in fall 2022 for giving away the company, transferring ownership of the $3 billion operation to a “specially designed trust and a nonprofit organization. They were created to preserve the company’s independence and ensure that all of its profits — some $100 million a year — are used to combat climate change and protect undeveloped land around the globe,” according to the New York Times. Read that article here.

Some of Patagonia’s sustainability highlights include:

  • Certifications include Fair Trade certified, FSC certified, Bluesign member, all products meet Responsible Down Standard (RDS) and Responsible Wool Standard (RWS)
  • Founding & accredited member of the Fair Labor Association, partnered with Better Buying Institute, member of 1% for the Planet and Outdoor Industry Association, Founding member of Outdoor Industry Association’s Climate Action Corp
  • All cotton used is grown organically.
  • Goal is to completely move away from using virgin polyester and all virgin petroleum fibers by 2025
  • By 2025, packaging will be 100% reusable, home compostable, renewable or easily recyclable
  • Recycled materials, including cotton, polyester, spandex, and wool are utilized. For the Fall 2023 season, their wool products were made with 89% recycled wool by weight.
  • By 2040, they will be net zero across their entire business.
  • Their takeback program recycles old cotton tees
  • Numerous waste, water, energy, and transportation emission reduction strategies in place
  • 100% renewable electricity in global owned-and-operated facilities by the end of 2025
  • I love that each of their stores get connected with local environmental issues and organizations. Their Action Works page can connect you to groups in your area.

This isn’t everything, and if you would like to read for yourself about all Patagonia is doing, click here.


Big Agnes

Big Agnes is my ultra outdoorsy brother’s favorite company—he actually used to shoot photos for their website and write an occasional blog post for them. We own some of their gear as well. Not only does this Colorado-based they make fantastic products, but they work towards sustainability while doing it.

  • Their three US facilities purchase 100% renewable electric energy through several offset programs.
  • Their Solution-Dyed Fabric tents drastically reduce water and energy consumption during manufacturing.
  • 100% of Big Agnes down insulated sleeping bags and apparel are Responsible Down Standard (RDS) certified, which ensures the ducks and geese that the down or feathers were treated humanely. They are also bluesign certified.
  • The majority of synthetic bags contain 50-100% recycled insulation depending on the model.
  • Their TwisterCane pad is made with sugarcane.
  • In 2023, they started incorporating 25-30% recycled aluminum in their tent poles. Poles are manufactures with a green anodization process that reduces fuel and energy consumption.
  • Removed poly bags from tent poles and camp furniture frames.
  • Founding member of Outdoor Industry Association’s Climate Action Corp
  • Restricted Substance List
    • No PVC
    • Currently phasing out PFAS
    • Flame retardants that have been deemed hazardous by at least one country, U.S. state or international regulatory organization. The company tests all camping shelter fabrics to ensure absence of prohibited flame retardants.

Check out my bro’s super cool outdoor adventures with his wife and four boys on Instagram @wildrootsoutdoors


Yeti

YETI, probably most famous for their popular drinkware and coolers, is a company committed to doing their part for the environment, as seen by their most recent ESG reports.

  • In 2023, YETI launched a circular consumer strategy with two new programs that currently covers 70% of their products:
    • Their Rescue program gives used gear new life, which you can purchase for less than a new item.
    • The Rambler recycling program recycles your damaged drinkware and gives you $5 towards a $25 purchase.
  • Founding member of Outdoor Industry Association’s Climate Action Corp
  • The Restricted Substance List (RSL) program offers transparency about the chemicals used in their products and specifies the chemical restrictions applicable to substances used in manufacturing YETI components, products, and packaging. The company requires material suppliers to use accredited 3rd party labs for all testing and certification processes; YETI uses UL for their testing. Specific chemicals of note that they focus on include:
    • PVC, which will be eliminated from the entirety of their supply chain by 2025.
    • PFAS (forever chemicals), which were successfully eliminated by YETI and its suppliers in 2021.
    • Bisphenols have been eliminated from their products.
  • Maintains gender pay equality, with progress towards goals for gender parity at leadership levels by 2025 and racial/ethnic diversity at all levels by 2030.
  • 95% of packaging is recyclable.
  • 100% of the Austin headquarters electricity usage comes from renewable sources and they are purchasing high-quality verified, renewable energy certificates (RECs) for the remaining electricity usage in their globally owned and operated facilities.
  • Goal to achieve zero waste to landfill across their value chain by 2030. In 2022, their landfill diversion rate was 84%, having diverted 554 tons of waste across their U.S. and Canada operations and Austin HQ.
  • Since 2021, YETI has donated $1.3 million to support organizations and individuals working to preserve the wild, and has partnered with many of these types of organizations.

NEMO

NEMO was founded in New England in 2004 and has won multiple awards from their beginnings, including overall winner of the ISPO Brand New award in 2005 and one of the 100 best inventions of the year awarded by TIME and Popular Science.

  • Over 100 of their products are bluesign approved
  • Goals to be completely PFAS and flame retardant-free by 2025
  • All down used is RDS-certified
  • 90% progress towards goal to eliminate the use of virgin petroleum-based plastics in packaging
  • Products in the Endless Promise line are 100% recyclable
  • Utilizing recycled materials in products, such as their OSMO tent material, which is made from PFAS-free, 100% recycled yarns
  • Founding member of Outdoor Industry Association’s Climate Action Corp

Kammok

Kammok is a certified B Corp that specializes in hammocks, trail quilts and blankets, among other things. They are a 1% for the Planet member and are Climate Neutral certified.

  • Some products contain upcycled materials like fabric scraps and hardware.
  • Their gear has a lifetime warranty, but if it becomes to worn to be usable, you can send it back to them for recycling.
  • Their website doesn’t contain any information about prohibited chemicals.

Don’t forget to protect your skin!

Natural bug repellent

Go Green: DEET-free

For itchy bites, try Fat and the Moon’s Bite & Burn Spray, made with yarrow, witch hazel extract, and lavender and tea tree essential oils. Murphy’s Natural Bite Relief Soothing Balm or Stick is another good choice.

Non-toxic Sunscreen

There are two categories of sunscreen: chemical and mineral.

Chemical sunscreens filter and absorb UV light with chemicals such as avobenzone, octinoxate, oxybenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate. The concern with chemical sunscreens is that all of these substances have been shown to absorb through the skin. There is not enough research available to determine whether this is harmful or have long term health effects, except in the case of three of these chemicals.

Make sure whatever brand you buy does not contain oxybenzoneoctinoxate, or homosalate, which are endocrine disruptors. In addition, oxybenzone and octinoxate are toxic to coral reefs. Check ingredient labels to be sure, but usually products without these chemicals are labeled ‘Reef Safe.’ Read more about these and other skincare chemicals that are toxic to coral and other marine animals.

Mineral Sunscreens are considered physical sunscreens since they block and reflect UV rays. This barrier can lead to a white cast left behind, especially with darker skin tones, which is a big downside to some people. The active ingredients–zinc oxide or titanium dioxide–are the only ones the FDA considers to be safe in sunscreen, however concerns arise regarding inhalation when used in spray and powder products.

If you’re interested in a deeper dive into chemicals in sunscreen, check out the EWG’s The Trouble with Ingredients in Sunscreens.

Zero waste sunscreen

Plastic-free packaging for sunscreens is a little harder to come by, but there enough awesome options to keep your skin protected.

  • Utu – These mineral sunscreens are made with USDA Biobased and Leaping Bunny certfied ingredients, packaged in aluminum tubes. Their sunscreen stick comes in an aluminum tube that you can purchase refills for. Available at ZWS / EarthHero.
  • All Good Sunscreen Butter – Mineral sunscreen made with organic botanical ingredients, many of which come from their own organic farm. The sunscreen butter is packaged in a tin; they have other sunscreen and body care products available in plastic. They are a Certified B Corp, WBENC certified Women Owned, Climate Neutral and Leaping Bunny certified, and 1% for the Planet member. Available at Grove / EarthHero / ZWS
  • Badger Mineral Sunscreens – Badger offers two of their sunscreens in a tin. Made with organic, Fair Trade certified ingredients. The company is a Certified B Corp andWomen Owned. Available at Grove / EarthHero / Target
  • Raw Elements – Many plastic-free options available. Non-Nano Zinc Oxide is their only active ingredient; the rest are either certified organic or certified natural and sustainably sourced. EWG Certified, Leaping Bunny, 1% for the Planet member. Available at Grove / Amazon / Target

For more on clean beauty and personal care products, click here.

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