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Volunteer handing out paper cups at Boston Marathon

Running needs a plastic revolution

Plastics in the ocean has become one of the pressing issues of our time (writes Chris Broadbent). The last 12 months have seen the environmental consequences of human behaviour graphically laid bare, particularly through powerful BBC’s programmes Blue Planet and Drowning in Plastic.

And shocking images of seahorses with cotton buds and turtles choking on plastic straws have swept virally across social media as people come to terms with the very real outcomes of our unsustainable consumption.

Aligned with the scientific consensus over the long-term damage, the appetite to do something before it is too late is now stronger than ever - with one notable American exception of course.

But what is sport doing in this area and is it adequately prepared to make changes for the greater good?

On Monday 3 December, at Lord’s Cricket Ground, there was a relatively small but influential gathering of sporting bodies organised by the British Association of Sustainability in Sport (BASIS) addressing these matters.

It’s a welcome development. But, sport – like many other sectors – is still in the starting blocks. And running and mass participation events are suddenly being held accountable over the overuse of single-use plastic items.

The use of thousands of throwaway water bottles is a staple feature of running events across the UK and beyond. And despite the best intentions of race organisers, many inevitably find their way into ecological systems, damaging the environment. As organisers and participants learn more about the effects of this mass consumption, its unsustainability and the inevitable impact on the environment, this common practice is set to come under sharp scrutiny.

London Marathon alone is responsible for 750,000 single-use water bottles on a single day. None of which are recycled. Taking into account the marathons, half marathons, triathlons in a single year here and overseas and the numbers are moving into the multi-millions.

But there are steps forward. In September, Harrow Half Marathon became London's first 'Single Use Plastic Water Bottle Free' event, instead hydrating runners using a new product called OHOO – water pods packaged in biodegradable material sourced from seaweed.

It was a bold move, but with positive feedback from participants, the hosts have now declared there is no going back. It feels like a moment where a realisation has dawned. Will we look back on the mass use of single-use water bottles with horror and incredulity?

There is (literally) a sea-change taking place, both in the environment and in the minds of the participants. Is running ready to step up?

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