From global sports bodies pledging to cut back on plastic to joggers picking up rubbish as they run, athletes, sports enthusiasts and clubs are joining forces to tackle the tidal wave of plastic pollution that is poisoning the world’s oceans.
Major sporting events can generate up to 750,000 plastic bottles apiece, so the pressure is on to clean up the industry and use sport’s global reach to raise awareness among fans.
“The environment and sports are more closely connected than people think. If we don’t have a healthy environment, then sports will not thrive,” says Erik Solheim, head of UN Environment.
Here are 10 examples of sports and athletes that have risen to the challenge.
1) Olympics: IOC lights a flame to #beatplasticpollution
Just as Olympians strive to be faster, higher and stronger, the International Olympic Committee has leapt ahead of the field by pledging to eradicate single-use plastics from its events. Seven major sporting bodies -- World Sailing, the International Association of Athletics Federations, World Rugby, the International Golf Federation, the International Triathlon Union, the International Ice Hockey Federation, and the International Surfing Association -- have promised to back the UN Environment’s #BeatPlasticPollution and Clean Seas campaign to tackle the excessive use of single-use plastics.
The IOC has begun reducing waste at its headquarters in Lausanne in Switzerland and at the Olympic Museum. in collaboration with its suppliers, IOC is also working to drive responsible material use at all its events.
“The IOC is embracing sustainability in its day-to-day operations as well as taking a proactive leadership role that inspires Olympic stakeholders and the wider sports community to implement best sustainability practices,” said Prince Albert of Monaco, chair of the IOC Sustainable and Legacy Commission.
Here’s just a taste of what the sports federations are ready to do: World Sailing has promised to implement an ambitious waste reduction strategy for all its events by 2019; the International Ice Hockey Federation is decreasing plastic use and encouraging recycling in its headquarters in Zurich; and the International Association of Athletics Federations has vowed to reduce use of plastics at future events.
2) Sailing: Turning the tide on plastic
It’s the race of a lifetime and the cause of a generation. The Volvo Ocean Race sees seven teams race 45,000 nautical miles around the world over eight months in a gruelling competition that aims to raise awareness of sustainability issues, including the threat posed by marine plastic pollution. This year, the Turn the Tide on Plastic yacht is competing to highlight UN Environment’s Clean Seas campaign.
Skippered by Briton Dee Caffari, Turn the Tide on Plastic is gathering data on microplastics as part of the Volvo Race’s Science Programme.
“With the science experiments we’re carrying out on board the boat, we are able to get raw data on the microplastics,” Caffari said. “We are collecting reference data that people can’t ignore so, hopefully, in the future, we’ll see a change in the amount of microplastics in the water.”
3) Cricket: Going green in India and striking out straws in the UK
In Bengaluru and Indore cities in India, a new “green protocol” is being put into play. In Bengaluru, Chinnaswamy stadium has adopted a zero-waste policy, using an army of green-clad volunteers to sort waste and educate spectators during Indian Premier League matches. Around 40,000 fans attend each match in the stadium, generating 3-4 tonnes of mixed waste each time. Because the waste is not separated, it has to be sent to the landfill.
Under a new “green protocol”, separate bins will be kept for dry and wet waste and volunteers will make sure rubbish ends up in the right place. Wet waste will be sent to the biogas or composting plant while dry waste will be recycled. Food vendors have been asked to use areca leaf or corn starch plates.
In Indore, an exhaustive Green Protocol details 72 ways to reduce, reuse and recycle of garbage, including plastic items, in the stadium. The stadium aims to be plastic-free by 2019. A number of partners, including the district and municipal administrations, cricket teams and UN Environment, have contributed to this strategy.
In the UK last year, London’s Kia Oval cricket grounds said it aimed to become completely plastic-free by 2020. The venue has banned the use of plastic straws this season, introduced compostable coffee cups, and is phasing out the use of plastic bags in the club shop. Last year, Kia Oval introduced eco-friendly cups to replace its plastic pint glasses. It also installed 20 free water fountains and taps and provided 20,000 limited edition refillable bottles.
4) Football: Spurring others to act
Tottenham Hotspur may not win the Premier League this year, but the English club is top of the table in tackling plastic waste. In April it said it would phase out single-use plastics in its new stadium, due to open next season. The aim is to eliminate plastic straws, stirrers, cutlery and all plastic disposable packaging for these items.
In the United States, Adidas and Major League Soccer released special kits, made out of Parley Ocean Plastic, for matches played during the weekend of Earth Day. All 23 clubs wore the Adidas Parley 2018 MLS shirts, which are made from technical yarns created from plastic waste found on beaches and in coastal communities.
5) Rugby: Twickenham converts disposable cups to souvenirs
Twickenham, the home of the English rugby team, has introduced a reusable Fan Cup to replace the flimsy, disposable cups that were previously used during games.
When customers buy their first drink, they are charged an additional £1 refundable deposit. When they return to the bar with the cup, the price reverts to the advertised cost. At the end of the day, fans can keep the cup as a souvenir or return it and get their deposit back.
Previously, around 140,000 pints of beer could be served during an international match meaning 140,000 cups were likely to be thrown away.
6) Athletics: London seeks answers to marathon plastic bottle conundrum
This year’s London marathon was the hottest on record but it was also unique because organizers trialled the use of compostable cups to reduce the number of plastic bottles that typically litter the streets after the event. Around 90,000 cups were placed at three drink stations along the route, as well as 760,000 plastic bottles for runners. The bottles were all to be recycled after the race, and the use of the cups will be reviewed.
7) Commonwealth Games 2018: Australia’s Gold Coast bursts plastic balloon
The Commonwealth Games were held on Australia’s Gold Coast in April and organizers were determined to do everything they could to protect this beautiful region and the surrounding waterways and oceans. Helium balloons were banned from the event and spectators were encouraged to bring their own transparent bottle to refill at water points around the grounds.
8) Baseball: White Sox step up to the plate to ban straws
The team said the move would take more than 215,000 straws out of play over the season.
9) Swimming: Taking on the Pacific in the name of science
At 8,900 km, it’s no wonder it’s being called the Longest Swim. Adventurer and activist Ben Lecomte will set off in late May to swim from Tokyo to San Francisco and all in the name of science and sustainability. Lecomte’s odyssey will take him through the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a raft-like mass of waste three times the size of France.
Lecomte and his support crew will contribute to eight research programmes during the swim, covering everything from plastic pollution to currents and radiation. Using a neuston net and water samples, the crew will make daily collections of marine microplastics to help researchers learn more about these tiny pollutants that are finding their way into our food chain.
10) Plogging: The new plastic-battling fitness craze
You don’t have to be an elite athlete to join the battle against plastics. You could try “plogging”. The Swedish trend, which involves picking up litter while you jog, is catching on and there will be plogging events across the globe on World Environment Day on June 5. The name comes from combining the Swedish word “plocka”, to pick with “jogga”, to jog.
The Clean Seas campaign is keen to help collaborate with any sport looking to make a difference on plastic pollution. Do get in touch by emailing CleanSeas@un.org