I can’t believe it was only just over a year ago that my niece Beth started to blog about the environmental disaster that our use of plastic is visiting upon the planet – Beth’s Blog. Since then a lot has changed – she has really helped to raise my awareness – challenged me to a plastic free month June – Plastic Free Challenge and set up her own plastic free business which has been an enormous success already Plastic Freedom.. Now I find that I can’t really go anywhere – or do anything without an awareness of the amount of single use plastic swamping us and seeping into and choking our oceans. David Attenborough moved things on enormously through Blue Planet and the heartbreaking shots of what is happening to our marine life. In what has become known as the “Blue Planet Effect” everyone now seems to be aware and making an effort to do things differently.
So what does all this have to do with running? Anyone who has run an organised road race will know something about the use of disposable plastics in these races. First of all there is the water stations – usually an array of plastic cups – filled with water – picked up and discarded just as quickly by runners keen to keep their hydration levels up – particularly if its hot. If not cups – then water bottles or pouches used in a similar way. Water stations are usually provided every 3 miles. So usually 1 in a 10k, 3 or 4 in a half marathon, 7 in a marathon. Small, local races may have as few as 250-300 runners – large events start at around a few thousand runners and the London Marathon has more than 40,000 runners. As our friends in the US would say “do the math”. That’s an awful lot of disposable plastic. And that’s before the bottles of water handed out to runners at the end of the race. And the gels (plastic packed of course) handed out or carried by runners and discarded along the route. Taking part in the Edinburgh Marathon Festival recently – many of the races ran along the coast – absolutely beautiful. But I saw thousands of discarded plastic bottles and it is hard to believe that some did not end up in the sea.
Race organisers are beginning to do things differently – using paper cups – although many of these are plastic lined and can only be recycled by specialist facilities – and so they just end up in land-fill where they will still be around long after our lifetimes. Trail – and ultra races are probably more forward that most with long distance runners often carrying their own folding cups to be refilled at feeding stations. Our neighbours – the wonderful Trail Running Sussex (the pictures below are from their recent event) are hoping to do things differently in their Weald Challenge races next year. But that’s tricky in road races where there is more of a premium on pace for many runners who want to grab and gulp without breaking stride.
So when I suggested we try to run (no pun intended) our annual Midsummer 10K race “Plastic Free” I wondered what sort of reception I would receive. But our new Chair Person Niki and the committee were in favour and supportive so we went for it. And here is how it went………………………..
We started by thinking about the water station and water for runners before and after the race. And our tea and coffee sales. All done previously with plastic cups and water bottles. Searching the internet we found the Green Cups – which are completely compostable. A bit more expensive – so we decided to see if we could get any sponsorship to help with this. Our local Waitrose store (some of the Partners run with us) – agreed to help out with providing tea, coffee, milk and sugar as well as fruit (bana
nas and oranges) for our runners. This meant that we could provide runners something plastic free at the end of the race. And also allowed us to divert our funds to pay for the cups. So thank you Waitrose – we couldn’t have done it without you!!
Our 10 k is run on the very lovely, undulating Sussex lanes around Waldron. Before the race the club (with the support of Brighter Heathfield ) and inspired by Diane – set out to try out the new sport from Scandinavia – Plogging (litter picking whilst jogging). We ran the route in plastic gloves (well not the men – they were too tough!) and with rubbish bags and removed 3 bags full of plastic waste from the route!
On the day we were all set. I didn’t run this year – too busy serving tea, coffee and cakes to hungry runners and supporters – but it is a lovely run if rather demanding in places (oh – okay – most of the final 5k) – but I did it last year June – How to run a Virtual Half Marathon – so I think I deserve a year off! And it was a hot one. On the tea and coffee stall you tend to see most people at some point and there were certainly lots of smiling faces.
So what about our rubbish? Well this is what we collected at Race HQ:
Cups and fruit waste – straight to compost – and one small bag of plastic waste (mainly bottles that runners had brought with them – and the packaging from the cups – can you believe?) into the recycling. I call that a result…………………………….. Next year I’ll put out different bins so we don’t have to sort it ourselves. But I’m inspired! It can be done differently. All I need to do is persuade the club to plog the route again – and we will have left no trace…………………………..
And our ladies team came third! Brilliant job ladies!