When it comes to leisure or recreation activities we often forget to consider the impact our favourite sports may have. While an active, outdoor lifestyle is healthy for you we have to ask, “Is it healthy for the planet?”
One of the biggest contributing factors is plastic waste. During and after field sports players will drink electrolyte drinks from plastic bottles. Cyclists use gel sachets and supplements from plastic tubs. At running events and triathlons water is often handed out in plastic sachets. While most of these sachets are picked up and thrown in a bin (there are some unsavoury elements who choose to litter though this is more an exception than a rule), it doesn’t change the fact that weekend exercise routines use a great deal of plastic and that participants use a lot of water.
Changing this does have some practical implications though. While trail runners carry hydration packs at the expense of water points along a route, it does mean that if they run out of water they face dehydration. Organisers at big events such as the Comrades Marathon and Ironman face potential disaster by limiting fluid supplies of participants as dehydration is common at these events and can have far reaching effects. And it is too dangerous for cyclists to switch their plastic water bottles for recyclable glass though in the earliest editions of the Tour De France competitors would carry glass bottles. The leaders would often deliberately break these bottles on the road to shred competitors’ tyres.
Responsibility has to be taken by both event organisers and participants. In training, athletes should rather carry their own water bottles than buying along their route as this generates unnecessary waste. At races, organisers should implement measures and ensure that waste is recycled. Despite covering a massive area and involving thousands of participants, the Comrades Marathon is a leader in greening. In 2011 they managed to recycle fifty eight percent of the waste generated by competitors – no small achievement when you consider the logistics involved. Only the cups, which have a wax lining, could not be recycled. The Comrades Marathon Association has a Green Table Award that is given to the company, club or sponsor that arranges the most sustainable refreshment station.
Sustainability doesn’t end with the activities and events mentioned above. How often have you bought your children new sporting equipment and thrown the old gear in the bin? When kids outgrow their clothes what do you do with them? That old bodyboard or surfboard used a large amount of polystyrene in its production – how did you dispose of it? Ever gone fishing and had line break off? How long will that line and those hooks remain in the water before biodegrading? What cleaning agents do you use to rid your mountain bike of grime? Does it contain harmful chemicals?
While it may not be practical or currently possible to solve all of these puzzles, we can do the following:
• At events such as running or cycling races participants should throw empty sachets in the bins provided.
• Old clothes and sporting equipment can be donated to orphanages or charitable institutions that will find use for them.
• Look for green gear – some manufacturers have even released a range of soccer shirts that use recycled plastic in their production. A running shoe manufacturer has produced a shoe with soles that biodegrade fifty times faster than regular shoes.
• When your bicycle tyre punctures, or need to throw out old supplement tubs, or decide that your water bottles need replacing, remember to recycle these items rather then clog landfills with goods that don’t biodegrade easily.