Last week I had a call from the owner of Moshimo Restaurant in Brighton. He’d taken a picture (above) after the half marathon of lots of Lucozade Sport bottles on the seafront. They were there, as I understand it, because they were given out to runners along the route. Lucozade sponsored the event. The runners then discarded them and got on with their run, leaving the organisers with the headache of tidying up and then dealing with the ferocious storm of anti plastic protest afterwards. The organisers were furious too, about the image, stating that none of the bottles ended up in the sea following their clean up.
Today I read that Belfast Marathon, which takes place on the 7th May, is to be sponsored by a bottled water company, Deep River Rock, who will give out free 330ml bottles to all runners at 8 water stations along the route. The headline of an article in BelfastLive.co.uk says “Leave your water bottles at home for this year’s Belfast Marathon.”
How many people take part in Belfast’s marathon? 17,000. So that’s at least 17,000 plastic bottles of water going to recycling. To be fair to Deep River Rock they are saying they want runners to be responsible and are placing recycling bins 200m beyond the water stations. But it still doesn’t seem right, does it? Surely we should be encouraging events like this to be plastic free – if only as an example of best practice – given what we now know about the state of the oceans. We should be using less of it, not more.
Drinks companies are keen to sponsor running events as it gets their product in front of a friendly audience. And event organisers need sponsorship money. It would appear to be a match made in heaven. But all I can see is mass littering, irresponsible use of plastics and no one with the good sense to call it out. Should organisers insist on water fountains instead of bottles, or at least paper cups?
Should they ban single use plastics from their events?
As time goes on and more people become aware of the issues of single-use plastics, relationships with polluters are going to turn toxic. Excessive and irresponsible use of plastic will be bad for business.
Should the local council put a ‘no plastic’ stipulation on all events? They do have the power as they grant the licences for such events. Or should the organisers do it themselves? Can they afford to say goodbye to partnerships that offer an easy way to get their event underway? At what point do they put principle in front of cold, hard cash?
In summer 2017 I attended the British Surf Life Saving Championships at Holywell Bay in North Cornwall. It was a plastic free event. Each competitor was given a refillable water bottle and told there were to be no single use bottles on the event site. Water points were provided with free refills for everyone.
How much litter was there after the event? None. Seriously, the beach was immaculate. And almost 1000 competitors walked away having been educated just that little bit. At my surf club we discussed making all our events plastic free after Holywell Bay.
The year before I attended the same event at a different venue. We held a mass #2minutebeachclean before the medal ceremony for 600 junior competitors. They brought back a huge pile of about 40 black bin bags.
It says a lot.
Here at #2minutebeachclean HQ we are always concerned about working with organisations that are pushing out plastics. It’s a dilemma. We are desperate for funds and yet we need to be careful who we talk to. Do we develop relationships with like minded companies or do we talk to those who pollute, in a effort to help them change?
We don’t want to fight, we want to inspire.
But, at what point would we have to say goodbye? Time for the events organisers to ask themselves the same questions. Are you inspiring change or just taking the easy road?
2 thoughts on “Is it time to reassess our toxic partnerships?”
Okay, so let us back up a little from the actual event day. How much plastic waste is generated by every runner in preparation for the event? Worn out shoes and the plastic they were packed in when bought, ditto clothing, ditto accessories. Then there is the waste involved with all the additional showers taken and the plastic bottles that body wash and shampoo comes in. There are the additional calories consumed, all packed in plastic. The sports drinks during 6 months of training. There are the fuel miles associated with extra journeys for training runs as not everyone runs from their front door every day as you want variety in your training as much as anything to preserve your interest in it.
And after the event? Yes lots of discarded water bottles, but the organisers knew that would happen and the participants have a reasonable expectation that clearing up is part of the event organisation. As such it’s not litter but shoddy organisation, don’t blame the runners, blame the organisers.
However, do runners really need another ‘goodie bag’ (plastic of course) with individually wrapped in plastic energy bars or gels and another medal hanging on a synthetic ribbon? And look at the amount of ancillary waste generated by an event: banners, posters, publicity, the list goes on almost endlessly.
If we looked at running a marathon as 6 months of unnecessary consumerism and waste culminating in a few discarded plastic bottles by every runner then there would never be another marathon ever, nor Olympic Games, nor Tour d’ France, that list too is endless, they achieve nothing and cost the earth. Is the world a better place because one person ran the arbitrary distance of 100m two one hundredths of a second faster than the next person?
On the other hand, life as a whole is a bit like that. You mentioned surfing, but does anyone need to go surfing, would the world stop turning tomorrow if surfing was banned? I think not. How much of what we do in life amounts to anything? Very little. But if we went through life doing nothing: no fun, no sense of personal achievement, no mountains climbed, no races run, no holiday snaps taken, what, you might ask, would be the point?
So let’s put it in perspective. On the day of a marathon race there are a lot of waste plastic bottles generated, which it should be the duty of the organisers to collect and recycle. But it is a fraction of the waste created by every runner and organiser in preparation for the event. As to clearing up, why not get a couple of extra volunteers at each water station and make it their role to collect the discarded bottles. Asking runners to stop and put bottles in a bin or drink from paper cups and then bin those responsibly is not an option, I’ve been a runner, it does not work. Water fountains, really? If I was about to set my personal best time would I stop and queue at a water fountain?
I personally am getting frustrated with ‘go plastic free’. Plastic is a very useful material and there are uses it should be put to and uses it should not. And if we are going to get any enjoyment out of life we have to accept that ‘waste’ is a part of living. Surely the thing is to take a holistic approach to life, we cannot get away from plastic and live a plastic free life, but we can be responsible, use less, recycle more. At the very least accept that the phone, tablet or computer just used to tell the world about a ‘plastic free’ life is, well yes, mostly plastic (as is the WiFi router, the phone cables the signal passes down, quite a lot of the satellite that relays the signal, etc.).
Yes we can use glass bottles or jars and free range ingredients, but what honestly do we think they were packed in to get them to the shop? The truck they were distributed on had a plastic dashboard, the plane that shipped them half way around the world is full of plastic parts, the crates the farmers used for the vegetables in the fields were plastic; as cardboard, mud and rain are not a workable combination. Organic plastic free clothes were sewn on a machine mostly made of plastic and woven on a machine mostly made of …. you get the idea.
And when one of those glass jars breaks and slices a hand open and there’s a visit to the hospital, what are the surgeon’s gloves made of, what do the sterile dressings come packed in, what are the stitches are made of? Most people’s ethical principals get suspended when they are bleeding enough and it hurts sufficiently.
Plastic free is a nirvana and what it mostly means is ‘I have gone plastic free by making my plastic waste someone else’s problem and being very blinkered about what is plastic in the first place’.
Which returns the discussion to the ‘plastic free’ surfing event. No surf boards were used except they were made of wood correct? No wetsuits were worn? No wristwatches? No cameras? No safety boats? No tents, stalls, souvenirs? It wasn’t plastic free really, but litter, well litter is a different question. If an event provides enough bins (which usually they don’t and I’ve organised a few in my time) and a strong message then maybe there will be less litter but it doesn’t mean there was necessarily any less plastic waste, just that instead of being thrown on the ground it was put in a bin or taken home.
Plastic is here to stay, the world could not be what it is without it and certainly could not accommodate the population it has, but we should value it a lot more than we do, which would make us use it responsibly and throw away none at all. Though people value gold a great deal but nevertheless quite a lot of that is thrown away.
In the meantime accept that running a marathon gives a lot of people a sense of well-being and that maybe there was some waste but we all create plastic waste directly or indirectly every day and only if we individually can say we are ‘plastic responsible’ can we criticize others for having some fun.
Thanks a lot for your thoughts. Much appreciated. And I agree with everything you say. However, I am not advocating plastic free living in this blog. In fact I say this: “As time goes on and more people become aware of the issues of single-use plastics, relationships with polluters are going to turn toxic. Excessive and irresponsible use of plastic will be bad for business.”
It really is time for us all to reassess our relationships with plastic. It is a wonder material – yes – but excessive and irresponsible use of single use plastics – bottles – bags – packaging – is killing our oceans. As an open water swimmer you know this because you swim in it. If we do nothing we are complicit. If we choose to take a stand we do something that makes a positive difference, however small. I think these events have a duty of care to the planet they use for their fun, just as you do for enjoying the ocean. We do what we can, and hope to inspire others in the actions we take. For me, to see plastic used unnecessarily is no longer acceptable.
Don’t worry, even though your Speedos shed plastic each time you swim, I’m not going to take them away!!! With much kindness and respect. Martin.
Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to chat further.