Sustainable Student Living: Sport and Fitness

By Alicia Siddons, GLOBUS Assistant Editor

“Two sheets of paper and a couple sprays are all you need” 

Cleaning stations stocked with blue roll paper and disinfectant sprays are stationed in each section of the gym. I follow the advice, measure two sheets of paper, three sprays (because, you know, I’m being cautious) and I wander to the spin bike. The wafer-thin, smurf-blue paper wipes just one or two surfaces – say the handles of the bike – and it has already crumpled into a ball of sodden, useless mush.  

I’m headed back to the cleaning station before I’ve even touched the saddle, and I’ve still the screen, the handles and dials to go.  

It is not just in gyms, of course, where disposables have made a strong comeback. Yet the bins building up masses of waste provide some insight into the impact single-use plastics and paper have on the planet, and it demonstrates the pressing need for sustainable practice in the sport and fitness industry. 

So, whether you are starting a new fitness activity or continuing with favourite sport, here are a few tips to make your sporting habits as a student more sustainable.  

SPORTS GEAR 

Whatever sport you choose, you need appropriate gear. Granted. 

Nevertheless, a quick look at Instagram and I’m bombarded with adverts of the latest Gymshark sale. Scrolling down the profiles of fitness models, it doesn’t take long to recognise that the fitness industry has developed its fashion niche, with models flaunting countless different outfits in bold, bright colours.  

Brands want you to believe you need a whole wardrobe of gear before you hit the gym 

The problem is that activewear is sourced, predominantly, from plastic-based, non-biodegradable, synthetic fabrics like polyester, nylon, and elastic. Not only do these materials undergo extensive manufacturing processes (on top of the emissions incurred by the harvesting of raw materials), they may also release microfibres into waterways when washed. And there are also the emissions from shipping to consider.  

Needless to say, buying new sports gear contributes to the textile industry’s environmental damage (According to the Ellen Macarthur Foundation’s report on the textile industry, some 98 million tons of non-renewable resources are used to produce new clothing, “including oil to produce synthetic fibres, fertilizers to grow cotton, and chemical to produce dye and finish fibres,” page 20).  

Though biodegradable, buying new cotton clothes will also contribute to environmental damage due to their reliance on extensive agricultural processes, high water consumption and pesticide use.  

Tip #1 Use what you’ve got  

Root through your wardrobe and you may find some t-shirts tucked away somewhere inside which you don’t mind getting sweaty. If you haven’t got any, you’ll know somebody that will. 

Tip #2 Cold wash in the sink  

Most sportswear needs a quick cold wash to rinse out the sweat. Washing your clothes in the sink can save energy and water and it limits the number of chemicals released into our waterways. If you are using Circuit machines, it’ll save you money too!  

Tip #3 Buy clothing from sustainable brands  

It’s hard to resist a good Gymshark sale. I have certainly failed in the past. When the itch comes, it’s worth looking brands offering clothes made from environmentally friendly or recycled materials.  

RUNNING  

It’s an obvious choice: no travel and minimal equipment (unless, like my father, you’ve developed an addiction to buying running shoes…). Yet as with any sport, the environmental impact will vary depending on the gear and travel associated with the activity. Runner’s world investigated the annual carbon footprint of an average runner and found that, by eliminating flight travel to races, runners can cut 75% of their associated carbon footprint.   

Tip #1 Run local 

It’s unlikely that, as a student, you’re flying to New York or Rio or Capetown to run marathons (*cough* Dad), but if you are new to the sport or are looking for a competitive edge, the Warwick Athletics’ team offer a range of running option, from Track and Field to Cross Country to “relaxed social running” with the Development club – right on campus.  

And if you are in Leamington Spa, the park run at Newbold Common on a Saturday boasts both green scenery and lean competition.

(Note: park runs are unfortunately currently suspended due to Covid-19)  

Tip #2 Run to the gym  

Even if running is not your number one choice of sport, a jog can cut a 15-minute commute to the gym or swimming pool in half and provide you with a good warm-up. And it will certainly burn more calories and less fuel than sitting in a car (not that I’ve ever done this…). 

CYCLING 

Much like running, cycling from your doorstep can eliminate travel emissions and does not require the energy needed to run a gym.  

Tip#1 Buy a second-hand bike  

The SU usually runs a second-hand bike sale at the beginning of term one.  

Additionally, Action 21 is a charity in Leamington Spa that refurbishes and sells second-hand bikes at the Re-Useful Centre in Leamington (they also sell other goods like kitchenware, clothes, books and small furniture items!). 

GYM   

Outdoor gyms are the greenest choice when it comes to gyms. But they aren’t always appropriate for British weather.  

The good news is that – construction emissions aside – gyms offer a space-efficient solution for exercising, especially good in polluted cities with poor air quality. More gyms around the world are reducing their energy consumption with human-powered machines, smart lighting and efficient temperature controls. Switching to renewable energy and reducing waste is the way to go.  

As a student, you may have a limited choice in the type of gym you choose. Nevertheless, there are still one or two tips to take on board.  

Tip #1 Take your own towel, a re-usable cleaning cloth (and disinfectant spray)  

Hear me out. It might sound like extra hassle, but taking your own, re-usable cleaning equipment will not only cut down waste, it can also save you time during your workout. Why make the plentiful trips to the cleaning stations or stand in their (socially distant) queues?  

In addition, you can avoid touching one of the most-commonly handled devices in the building: the spray handles.  

As an extra precaution, you can clean your cloth in the bathroom sinks before you leave.  

Tip #2 Use Eco-friendly Yoga Mats  

With increased hygiene measures, some gyms are encouraging clients to bring their own mats. However, most yoga mats are made from polyvinyl chloride, a plastic sourced from petroleum and phthalates. These are non-recyclable, leak harmful chemicals into the biosphere and can disrupt one’s health

If you’re looking to buy your own, why not opt for mats made from sustainable materials like cork or sustainably harvested tree rubber.  

Tip #3 Recycle your Protein Powder packaging  

Protein providers often use plastic packaging to keep the protein fresh. Buying in bulk can minimise packaging and recycling your plastic will cut down waste.  

Tip #4 Keep the windows closed  

Gyms get hot, especially in winter if the heating’s on. Nevertheless, opening windows lets the heat out and wastes precious energy. The same is true of air-conditioned rooms.  

Tip #5 Re-usable Water Bottles!  

Enough said. 

WINTER SPORTS 

Artificial snow, forest clearance, ski lifts and piste-bashers – and that’s all before the tourists have arrived. But before you worry, I will not criticise you for joining the Snow tour or planning a weekend away in the mountains.   

If you are set on the slopes, here’s what you can do to minimise your environmental impact.  

Tip #1 Take the Coach  

Ski resorts are not plentiful in the UK but a coach journey to the Alps in France is feasible and cost-effective.  

Tip #2 Opt for smaller villages and resorts 

The big-name resorts feature huge swathe of construction that stand empty for most of the year. By staying in smaller villages, you can support local farmers and businesses. In the Lungau valley in Austria, for example, you can ski several mountains with easy transport via bus with no additional cost to your ski pass.  

Some larger resorts have also invested in greener energy consumption, insulation, recycling and car-free zones.   

Tip #3 Try ski-touring  

It’s similar to cross-country, only uphill. Taking the forest trails will bring you closer to nature and away from busy slopes. You save money on the lift pass, enjoy the views, and get a killer workout at altitude. 

SWIMMING  

Water consumption, heating, ventilation, cleaning chemicals… swimming pools are not the obvious green choice when it comes to sports. Yet not all swimming pools are made equal. The University of Maryland, for examples, uses moss to keep its campus pools clean while using fewer chemicals and reducing water consumption.  

Using solar panels can also reduce carbon emissions associated with heating swimming pools.  

If you’re on or around campus, your choice in swimming pools may well be limited. Yet if you are interested in making swimming more sustainable, some passionate enquiries and petitioning may go some way to encourage sports centres to implement greener measures in their pools.  

Tip #1 Find a lake (locally) 

Unheated, lakes provide a green alternative to public swimming pools. Bear in made that travelling longer distances will contribute to carbon emissions.  

Tip #2 Let your hair dry naturally  

Save electricity and be kind to your roots.  

TEAM SPORTS  

The environmental impact of each sport will vary according to several factors. Outdoor sports may seem unproblematic at first sight, yet water use and floodlights use precious resources.  

Researching the sustainability of Premier League football clubs, for example, BBC Sport worked with the United Nations-backed Sport Positive Summit to compare measures currently in place. The report provides an insight into various ways sport can tackle its environmental impact across a number of categories.  

Ultimately, whatever sport you choose, implementing green habits (you know, the ones you’ve already heard before) will reduce your environmental impact even before you have reached the gym or field.   

Happy exercising!  

Photo by Steven Lelham on Unsplash 

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