In terms of the environment, large marathon events are very greedy. Not only do you have the carbon footprint involved with thousands of people travelling to the same place, there’s also the waste produced by all the runners and their friends and supporters who have gone along to watch.
The huge amount of waste generated can be anything from food waste and packaging to the giveaways and leaflets found in virtually every goodie bag, to the bags themselves, the space blankets distributed at the end of the races, and even the event T-shirts which will probably be discarded as soon as the runners return home.
Then there’s the water that keeps the runners hydrated as they run the course. There have been no figures released for this year’s London Marathon yet, but in 2016 clean-up teams got to dispose of 52,000 plastic water bottles in addition to the two tonnes of other rubbish.
Waste concern is worldwide. According to the Swiss Marathon Association, the environmental impact of marathons is unavoidable. However, the Association encourages sustainability by minimising the unnecessary emissions as of waste, noise, water and air pollution and advises that environmentally-friendly implementation should be part of a marathon’s PR.
Delivering sustainable waste solutions at marathons
In London, the Royal Parks Half Marathon makes a virtue of its very strong sustainability agenda which has been designed to reduce its environmental impact as much as possible. Its strategies include: a ban on fliers and vouchers in the cotton goodie bags handed out at the finish line; recycling areas throughout the course which are staffed to help maximise the amount of litter being properly recycled; wooden medals; race T-shirts made from sustainable materials, sent by shipping rather than air freight; reusable signage; online registration; and the use of bicycles for event organisers to travel around the course on the day.
A useful resource for marathon organisers, as well as organisers of other large events, is Resource Efficient Scotland’s document on How to Plan and Deliver Environmentally Sustainable Events. “Waste management is about understanding how waste is created, by whom, where and when and then aiming to prevent it”. The report’s authors suggest bringing in a waste management company as an event partner for their expertise as well as to ensure compliance when it comes to waste. An experienced waste management company will not only make sure you have the right recycling bins, but can also advise on the best places to locate them to maximise use and minimise the effect of your marathon on the environment.