Something that always bothers me when I enter running events is the amount of plastic I see wasted. Of course, hydration is essential in all kinds of exercise, and in endurance events a lot of hydration is needed. So, large events such as the Dublin City Marathon supply hundreds of thousands of bottles of water and sports drinks to the participants. Most runners grab these bottles (generally 250ml water bottles and 500ml Lucozade bottles), take a couple of swigs, and then cast the bottle aside. I don’t know if any studies have been done on this, but by my crude estimate I would say that at least two thirds of the liquid supplied is dumped. So step one in cutting down the waste would be reducing the amount available. Smaller bottles are not necessarily the answer though, as two 250ml bottles contain more plastic than a single 500ml one (41% more by my reckoning).
I do carry my own (reusable) bottles when on my own training runs, and on Ultra events, but admittedly use the bottled water in marathons. I do hang on to the bottles I take and drop them at the next milemarker/water-station, in the hope that they are recycled. Not ideal though. Still, a little more conscientious than arseholes I’ve seen throwing their bottles into the river. Fuckers should be disqualified from the race. And also thrown into the filthy Liffey. It would serve them right.
I suppose a real challenge would be to run the full marathon without taking on any water, like 1952 Olympic winner Emil Zatopek did, not realising that the refreshments at the side of the road were actually for the athletes. But realistically this is impossible. It would be nice if cities were to actually supply water fountains for people exercising. The only one I know of in the entirety of Dublin in in Farmleigh in the North West corner of Phoenix Park. If anybody knows of any others I’d appreciate your input. I sometimes resort to stashing water at different points on my running route, but this of course involves doubling back and repetition.
Of course bottled water and other drinks help grease the wheels of commerce, which is more important than the environment in the eyes of many. Who cares about the amount of waste we generate when we can scam people out of their hard earned money? Where is the incentive for city and county councils to provide drinking water to the public when we are so attuned to buying it in bottled form? After all, the government is dead set on privatising the national water supply, by letting the public utility run into disrepair and then claim that the private sector is the saviour. (They are doing the same thing with hospitals)
It might surprise you that writing this piece was actually inspired by a bit of good news. So allow me to veer away from my usual deep cynicism and talk about the Harrow Half Marathon, which took place this weekend just passed. Hearteningly, instead of single-use plastic bottles, hydration was supplied in biodegradable pouches. Not only biodegradable in fact, these seaweed-based pods are even edible. This is a wonderful initiative, and hopefully we will see this rolled out in other events, and eventually replace bottled hydration entirely.
In the meantime, I’ll endeavour to minimise the amount of waste I create in next month’s marathon, as well as in the Great Dublin Bike Ride this coming weekend. At least on the bike I’ll be able to carry my own bottle with ease, though I full intend making a pig of myself at the food stop halfway, as I also did last year. And I’ll forego the second food station closer to the end, just as I did last year. I’m going to have to hope that the other competitors in these events start to develop a similar mindset.