Environment Agency launches a drive against plastics in sport

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Marathon runners who litter should be disqualified, the Environment Agency has suggested, as it launches a drive against plastics in sport. 

New guidance for sporting events issued this week suggests ways that cycling and running races can reduce their plastic use, with thousands of plastics cups and bottles typically given out and discarded at races every year.

Mass races have returned to Britain’s streets this year following suspensions in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic, but there are concerns about their impact on the environment.

Participants should be encouraged to bring their own reusable bottles, while race organisers should consider scrapping bibs or plastic numbers in favour of writing them on arms and legs, the guidance says.

 Goody bags” given to successful finishers could also be eschewed to reduce waste, the agency said.

“Some events have successfully imposed a ban on littering, disqualifying participants that drop any litter on the course,” it added.

“This ensures participants are responsible for their own waste, intertwines sustainability within the event and makes littering socially unacceptable.” 

One event, the New Forest Marathon, uses cardboard cups rather than plastic cups or bottles, and requires runners to drop them within designated drinks zones, with anyone seen dropping them outside these areas disqualified.

If runners need to dispose of food and drink packaging outside these areas, they can give it to a marshal.

Another popular event, the Conwy Half Marathon, has a similar policy. Guidance for runners on its website says: “Runners will now be disqualified and taken off the results if seen discarding their rubbish outside of a water stop or not with a marshal.”

Wild Running, an event organiser whose races include a Dartmoor ultra-marathon and a Lake District fell running camp, said it was encouraging participants to bring their own collapsible cups.


Ceri Rees, the founder of Wild Running, said: “We should all be in this for the long run, and hold event organisers accountable for their race equipment.”

Barry Hopkins, the director of Sporting Events UK, said: “We have been using reusable timing chips, with low plastic content, which can last for hundreds of thousands of active scans. Many of our signage items are produced in such a way that we can reuse them at future events.”

Organisers of this year’s London Marathon, due to be held on October 3, are encouraging participants to buy an £11.99 bottle belt so they can carry their own water to reduce potential Covid-19 transmission through contact, as well as reduce waste.


Banning soft drinks in plastic bottles

Similar guidelines for sporting venues suggest banning soft drinks in plastic bottles and providing water fountains and reusable cups on a deposit return scheme instead.

The guidance says: “Consider providing refill fountains for athletes and staff too, so they can reduce their single use plastic consumption and keep well-hydrated. Athletes can be ambassadors for behaviour change if they are visibly seen using a refillable bottle.” 

The new documents have been produced on behalf of the Interreg Preventing Plastic Pollution project, an Anglo-French partnership of expert organisations working to reduce plastic pollution in the rivers and oceans.

Hannah Amor, the project lead at the Environment Agency’s plastics and sustainability team, said: “Experts tell us that 50 per cent of all plastic produced is for single-use items – things that are used for only a few moments and then thrown away. This is having a detrimental impact on our planet.

“The sports industry is in the unique position of being able to influence millions of people worldwide by  leading the way in sustainability and setting a good example.  ‘“By minimising avoidable plastic consumption, the industry can help reduce the impact of plastic on our planet, reduce its carbon footprint and contribution to the climate crisis – possibly saving money at the same time.”