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It's all about (recycling) the shoes at Warrior Dash run

Corporate sponsors of the recent “Warrior Dash” competition in North Plains were there for all the usual reasons: to promote beer and energy drinks and even to get runners to consider enlisting in the National Guard.

One sponsor, Chicago-based recycling company USAgain, took a different approach. The company, which deals mostly with clothing, was there to promote recycling of participants’ shoes, and it struck a chord with the 9,500 runners who turned out for the annual 5K obstacle course at Horning's Hideout, near North Plains.

Participants ran up and down trails, jumped over burning logs, climbed walls and rope obstacles and splashed through muddy pools. After all that, with their running shoes no longer recognizable, most runners embraced the tradition of tossing them into a pile for recycling.

Participants also are encouraged to bring their surplus shoes from home to recycle at the USAgain tent near the finish line, as well as their race shoes, says Steve Johnson, a USAgain community recycling specialist who was at the race site all day.

“The shoes are dried, cleaned and graded, and then either resold or chopped up as asphalt or playground material. The goal is to give shoes a second life and divert harmful waste from landfills.”

“As a for-profit clothing recycling company, partnering with Warrior Dash allows us to reuse and recycle shoes and keep them out of landfills,” says USAgain spokesman Sean Graw.

Many of those competing said they were there not only because the event was challenging and fun, but because they believe there is a race to save the planet as well.

Kathy Campbell, who lives in Corvallis, came up with friends Karen Baos of Central Point and Richelle Marshall of Medford. They participated last year with their spouses, and wanted to do the race again.

“We ditched our husbands this year,” Campbell laughed. “It's girls' time, and we're supporting a good cause.”

Michelle Williams, who lives in Seattle, caravanned down Interstate 5 with a group of about a dozen moms who were eager to compete in the race. All of them wore pink T-shirts emblazoned with the slogan, “Run like a mother.”

Williams said she has been competing in the event for the past four years, and entices more friends to participate every year.

“This is the place to be,” Williams said. “We love to say we did this event. It's the best feeling in the world, and usually I recycle my shoes at the end.”

USAgain's Johnson, a Seattle resident, says that approximately 300 million pairs of shoes are landfilled annually, and a landfilled shoe takes about 50 years to break down.

“Recycling one ton of glass saves one ton of CO2, but recycling one ton of clothing saves seven tons,” Johnson explains. “Ask 10 people in a room what are the top four or five items they recycle, and if even one says clothing, I'd be surprised. It's usually glass, paper, plastics. But clothing is near the top of the food chain for benefits.”

Johnson said informing the public about the benefits of recycling clothing is a huge part of USAgain's mission.

“We're trying to get kids educated,” Johnson said. “We work with school districts and churches; anywhere we can put up a used clothing bin.”

“Typically, we get 30 to 35 percent of their shoes turned in” during the North Plains' event. he says. “We are estimating approximately 3,200 pairs — or about 4,500 pounds of shoes That equates to a little over 15 tons of CO2.”