Folks, it’s Recycling Week in the UK., and here’s a fun fact for you: Belfast actually STARTED this initiative in 2003 and then it went nationwide. How amazing, and a big shout out for our city being ahead of the curve. But, last week at Belfast half-marathon, we weren’t exactly covering ourselves in glory when it came to saving the earth. It was a fecking travesty. There were bottles EVERYWHERE: many of which were almost full. There were overflowing bins with all manner of garbage, so I doubt whether every last bottle made its way to a recycling centre. I grabbed a few and took them home and the wee ones and I watered the plants with them. I did the same after the marathon last year. Many of the bottles I rescued were the new mini versions supplied by River Rock especially for the occasion. They had been handed out at 5km intervals along the way so every thirsty runner could have a drink. The fact that so many of these contained all but a few sips suggested that the runners had plenty more than they needed.
I wrote this article last April and sent it off to several local papers. It remained unprinted, and I didn’t receive as much as an acknowledgement from any of them. Many years ago I suffered a horrific accident. These same publications were on the phone, often several times a day, harassing the life out of me and my family. Clearly, where personal trauma is the issue, they’re all over it, but what about planet trauma? All that save the earth shit? They don’t appear to give a hoot.
Here’s the article I wrote and filed away. Should you like to read and share it, I would be most grateful. If you are part of a running club yourself, perhaps you could advocate the use of paper cups and cones throughout the race. And frankly, I’m so pissed off about the bottle situation, deliberately perpetuated by River Rock and therefore by the Coca Cola company, that I’d be tempted to boycott the event altogether until they review their practices.
I love running, and I love the environment. Unfortunately the two don’t often go hand in hand. My husband and I regularly compete in ten km races around Northern Ireland. This means that we come home with double the bling, the tee-shirts and the goody bags. I’m trying (and failing) to adopt a more minimal approach to life, and as these spoils of races accumulate it not only adds to the clutter in my home, but in my mind as well.
Marathons make me a bit twitchy these days. On our screens we see marine life poisoned by plastics: turtles who have ingested bags and choked and fish with microfibers clogging their intestines. It makes distressing viewing. But when we, the runners, reach the finish-line, we find ourselves in a different type of sea, our feet awash in a tide of plastic bottles. The focus at these runs is often a quick event shut down, so we can’t be sure whether the rubbish is sorted. Often it isn’t, and this needs to be addressed.
So what positive changes can we make? At Berlin marathon, the streets are lined with volunteers, serving water (and oddly, tea) out of paper cups and cones. I suggest we have more water stops with non-plastic receptacles as one solution. In any one city there are numerous running clubs, who could come together to support competitors and organise the provision of water and the clean up afterwards. Often at the marathon the role of volunteers is vague, but a systematic approach with an emphasis on the care of both runners and the environment would make for a better marathon experience all round.
What about the parched runners at the end? Could sponsors use their imaginations and come up with a specific reusable vessel which runners could them keep them as a momento of their day? And again, there is a huge role for volunteers here, collecting litter and separating out what is compostable and recyclable from what isn’t.
Organisers of all running events should also consider the environmental cost of bulk buying tee-shirts. Just because these can be picked up cheaply does not mean that they should be an automatic inclusion of every race pack. Worrying research has come to light recently about the accumulation of plastic in river sediment. A study of over 40 rivers beds in Northern England showed that every river-bed which was tested contained deposits of plastics. Many of these microfibers come from clothes, which are released into the water systems after multiple washings. This is another incentive to discourage the mass production of clothes containing polyester and to return to more sustainable materials.
Recycling plastics is not a feasible solution anymore. We need to look at alternatives, since the broken down micro-plastics are finding their way into waterways and thus our bodies, the long-term effects of which could be dangerous.
Running shouldn’t cost the earth. But the high I get from running with my friends and the camaraderie at races is being steadily eroded by the over-flowing bins and short-sightedness of event organisers. At our local parkrun in Ormeau Park, Belfast, we have introduced reusable cups for tea and coffee afterwards. This has resulted in saving at least 400 polystyrene cups from land-fill in the month since it has been introduced. Small changes make a huge difference, so as runners, let’s ask ourselves what we can all do to make Irish running events more sustainable.