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6 Tips to go Zero Waste at the Gym

As much as I love getting out in nature for a hike or an outdoor run, deep down, I’m a bit of a gym rat. There are so many different activities to try, you can really mix things up and challenge your body! Gyms also have great potential to be Zero Waste institutions. Instead of every person getting their own treadmill or free weights or other equipment, we get together as gym members to share workout space and resources. Sure, working out in nature potentially involves basically no equipment, but there are times when this isn’t feasible due to the weather or other factors. In those situations, the gym is a great backup. Rather than joining a fancy gym, we’re members of our local YMCA. It’s affordable, and in our community, the Y supports a lot of important initiatives and enrichment activities for youth. Even if you don’t belong to a gym and don’t plan on joining one, exercising outdoors generally involves workout clothing and shoes, so the tips below are still handy for outdoor workouts.

While gyms can help us cut down on waste because they are resource-sharing institutions, there are areas where waste occurs and can be avoided. We need to be mindful of our cleaning practices, our post-gym hygiene routines, and the clothing and gear we use for working out. If you’re a gym rat looking for opportunities to cut down on your workout waste, here are six simple ways to green your workout routine.

6 Zero Waste Gym Swaps:

1. Cleaning: Thankfully more and more gyms are moving away from single-use, disposable cleaning wipes toward refillable spray bottles and washable rags. However, if your gym is still using single-use wipes, or if you are uncomfortable with the cleaners they use, bring your own reusable cleaning wipes. You can try the recipes in my post on reusable wipes, or you can use my instructions along with your own preferred cleaning recipe if you want something stronger or more disinfecting. Using reusable wipes will cut way down on the paper towels involved with wiping down your machines before and after use.

2. Post-Workout Hygiene: Much like your Zero Waste bathroom swaps at home, your post-workout gym routine should contain many of the same elements to avoid unnecessary waste due to those tiny, travel size plastic bottles of shampoo, conditioner, and other hygiene products. Make sure to stock your gym bag with:

3. Gym Bag: Your gym bag doesn’t necessarily have to be anything fancy. I often use a big tote bag for my clothes and shoes along with a smaller tote bag inside of the big bag for my hygiene supplies. But, if you like to have a dedicated gym bag, Poshmark has some high-quality, gently used bags, or you could consider sewing your own using upcycled or sustainable materials.

4. Gym clothes: If you’re comfortable wearing used gym clothing, PoshMark and ThredUp have some nice options in a variety of sizes. However I realize there is a certain yuck factor revolving around wearing something that someone else has sweated in. I get it. PACT Organics makes nice workout basics like leggings and t-shirts and TenTree has a nice selection of workout wear as well. While they cost a bit more than you might pay at WalMart or Target, these brands are fairly affordable, unlike other eco brands that cost an arm and a leg. Plus items from these brands will likely last longer than clothes from cheap bix-box stores. Earth Hero also carries a small selection of athletic basics at affordable prices.

5. Shoes: Workout shoes are one of those things that I still prefer to buy new instead of used. I tend to run and workout pretty hard, and pre-worn shoes just aren’t going to hold up as long. Thankfully there are many brands out there that are now prioritizing sustainable and/or recycled materials in their products. The way I look at it, by purchasing new from these brands, we are supporting the demand for sustainable products and materials, which will hopefully cause more companies to adopt sustainable practices. Allbirds produces running shoes from sustainable materials, and the company is also dedicated to ethical and humane practices for their workers. Some of their shoes are even machine washable! Veja also uses excellent sustainable practices, and they carry Vegan shoes. While they aren’t a perfect company, Adidas also carries a sustainable line of shoes made from recycled materials including ocean plastic. As a major brand, it’s more likely you will be able to find these shoes in regular retail stores if you prefer to shop in person.

6. Food & Water: Bring your water bottle and post-workout snack: I almost left the water bottle off the list because it almost goes without saying, but I will say it again: bring your water bottle to the gym so you don’t get thirsty and end up buying a plastic bottle from the vending machine. Also, if you’re used to hitting up the gym smoothie bar post-workout, be sure to bring your own container or bring your own snack so you can avoid the temptation of a post-workout chocolate protein shake with a plastic cup and straw.


By being mindful and making these simple swaps to our gym routines, we can cut down on a large amount of the waste that results from our workouts. And of course, as I always recommend, if you already have serviceable workout clothes, a gym bag, etc… there is no need to go out and buy all new things right away. Just wait until what you have needs to be replaced and then go out and replace it with the most sustainable option you can afford. Things like snacks, cleaning products, and travel-sized hygiene products tend to get used up more quickly, so for these things, you’ll have opportunities to switch to more sustainable habits right away.

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