Running for a Cause (and for meaning): The Recycling Runner

I was going through some of my new followers on Twitter last week and one jumped out at me. His name was “The Recycling Runner” and his bio said “Running enthusiast that collects all roadside recyclables as he runs. Redeems the recyclables & the $$ is donated to the American Heart Association.”

I followed him back and sent him a direct message asking for his email address because I needed more information. He responded with an inspirational story that was BEYOND what I could have expected. I wanted to post about Joe’s story and his cause on my blog simply because you don’t come across great people like this very often and I thought his story should be shared (and shared, and shared).

Name: Joe Sullivan

From Joe:

I am excited and honored that you want to do a feature about me and my project on your blog.

I am an Army Veteran (17 years service), Husband of an Army Officer and Father of three boys – we just had twins last week!! I went to Virginia Commonwealth University and earned my Bachelor in Fine Arts and since then I have been working as an Independent Artist.

I have been a lifelong runner, but in May of 2004, shortly after my return from Operation Iraqi Freedom, I suffered a Heart Attack after an Army Physical Fitness test. I luckily survived what my doctor called the “Widow Maker.” Since then, with great rehabilitation both physically and vocationally, I now have a new chance on life.

I worked hard on getting back to running because I missed it so much. In 2009, I ran my first Marathon in 4:18. This proved to me I can do anything in running again, just not with the fast pace I once had. In 2010, I met a running coach that trained the Fort Lee 10 Miler team and with his expertise I was able to compete in that year’s Army Ten Miler. I ran it in 74 minutes and that was what I call my comeback race. Since then I have run a ton of half marathons, improved my marathon time to 3:52, and started the Recycling Runner Project. The project kept me running even if I didn’t have a scheduled race. At first it was because I was tired of seeing my running routes filthy, but then I thought, “There has to be something else I can do with this junk.” Considering I am dealing with heart disease every day, I figured I should redeem the recyclables and donate the money to the American Heart Association.


Where are you located?

I am in Upstate New York in Fort Drum.

Do you collect recyclables on every run?

Yes I do this on every run. I never pass up a chance to grab a recyclable.

What do you carry with you?

I carry a Camelbak daypack for short runs and a larger hiking rucksack like pack for longer runs- both have a 120oz Camelbak, in some random pockets you’ll find some GU packets and the main portion of the packs are always lined with a trash bag, so the often filthy recyclables don’t stink up my gear too badly. I usually train/run at 8-9 min miles and usually keep my eyes peeled as I run down the road or trail. When I see a recyclable I drop my pack, open it up, I usually inspect the can or bottle (don’t pick up cigarette or chewing tobacco filled bottles or cans) empty it of dirt or liquids the best I can and crush it up to save space – then throw my pack back on and get back to pace as quickly as I can. This does greatly effect consistent pacing over long distances, but it can be a great quick recovery, can simulate practicing surges, and it really makes the run oddly more fun & rewarding. My only issue is the removing of the backpack sometimes as quickly as 2 steps later can often get frustrating – the on & off of the pack really holds things up as for the running aspect. So I am engineering a pack that I can expedite the collection process without taking the pack off my back. I am hoping to have fun with the engineering portion of the project by creating a pack, a pull cart and a push cart to hold the recyclables just to see what would be more efficient for the job. In designing these things I hope to create a product that maybe other runners would consider wearing in order to do the same thing. I mean who else has a closer look at our road sides and can clean them up easier than us runners, right?

Does anyone else help?

No I do this alone.

Do you organize any runs with others?

No, if I run with others I often say “Don’t mind me while I stop for these things.”

Do you organize clean ups of any areas, trails, running paths?

I have not organized anything, but would love to one day see a town, city, state or national run day that everyone does this – it would be amazing!!

Do you keep track of how much you pick up?

I am keeping track of my numbers as I get home just to see how much I collect. Although I have been doing the cleaning up for a number of years I only recently started calling myself the RecyclingRunner for a little over a month and started tracking my project’s results since then. Below is one of my recent posts (and the numbers have climbed quite a bit since):

              • 7 days of running: in 38 miles I found 47 plastic bottles, 59 Aluminum cans, 4 glass bottles, 23 Nonrefundables and even watched someone toss some cans out their window as they passed me (they must’ve known I was the RecyclingRunner)!

How much money have you donated to the AHA?

Sadly because it is only 5 cents at a time, it takes a while to build any serious amount. I opened an account that is strictly for the redeemed money and when I reach $100 dollars I will be making my first donation. I am currently a little over $20 dollars, but have not made the initial donation because of the goal I set to meet. I hope to one day maybe have financial backers that will maybe match 10 cents to every item I redeem or something of that nature to help the donation amount become more substantial. Regardless of the amount donated (which one day may be a significant amount), the project is the idea of cleaning up the world we run in, recycling these discarded items and giving the money to someone or some organization that can use the money for good. I wish it was a tremendous amount for you to pass on to your readers, but sadly it is a slow process.

Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the United States (source, source). I really feel that he is doing a wonderful thing for the cause as well as our community and of course our environment. Please share his story! Perhaps we could all be involved in some way in the future!

For further information on Joe’s Recycling project, please visit his Facebook Page,


Photo Credit – RecyclingRunner


9 thoughts on “Running for a Cause (and for meaning): The Recycling Runner

  1. Amanda Naro (@amandanaro)

    That is pretty inspirational and also an awesome idea! Luckily I don’t live in an area where I’d find things like that on my run (okay maybe one or two beer cans in a 10 mile radius) because it’s pretty clean. Thanks for sharing – I hope his project gets the bigger and better results he is hoping for!

  2. evelinruns

    Oh, how I LOVE this! Thank you both for sharing and what a wonderful initiative!
    I’ll head right over to Twitter to follow you both and I look forward to reading more..

  3. Pingback: FRIDAY RANDOMNESS |

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