Now with the plastic in our soil, the water we drink, the air that we breathe, there is a “use paper” movement amongst organisations. That is instead of using disposable plastic cups and bags, events switch to use disposable paper cups and paper bags. Disposable paper packaging is supposed to replace disposable plastic packaging being sold as a “green” solution. How sustainable is this? Replace all plastic packaging with paper packaging and think “green washing”……another “green disposable” to replace what was supposed to be a “green disposable”. Disposable plastic packaging was supposed to save the trees and reduce carbon emissions and reduce water usage. Seems we just looped back on ourselves.
Now a days I write to organisers asking them what their sustainable actions will be at the event…..
Will you allow my tyre to be with me as well as take more sustainable actions to reduce the amount of waste you generate?”
Typically the response from organisers has been:
“We are using paper cups and paper goody bags” or
“We are using compostable cups and paper goody bags”
Of course I recognise people are trying to improve but consumerism means corporates want to keep customers consuming, hence corporates need to find a green credential of a disposable in order to sell it.
I was once fooled about “compostable cups” but no more.
In previous posts have talked about PLA, a bioplastic derived from plants. It is “compostable” but only in industrial composters. So if it becomes litter in our environment (the real issue) then it will work just like “plastic”. Paper cups have plastic liners or perhaps some class of chemicals like PFAS (see below)
Poor plastic management combined with irresponsible littering has polluted our planet. Additionally using other disposables (regardless if compostable) have been found to be more carbon polluting in comparison, uses more water resources & can compromise food security. Have already provided information about Paper versus Plastic and the many studies that show how much more carbon polluting / chemical polluting manufacturing and processing paper can be.
Isn’t Compostable Paper Better?
Recent news has highlighted that disposable “compostable” paper based products such as microwave popcorn bags, compostable paper packaging, pizza boxes and more could actually be contaminating the soil & water. The paper based compostable items might be laced with PFAS, a class of chemicals that helps increase water, stain and grease resistance, and has been found to contaminate the soils long after the items have “composted”. There are concerns about this class of chemicals and hence Denmark wants the entire class of PFAS being used in food related products to be banned sometime in 2020. https://chemicalwatch.com/81637/denmark-to-ban-all-pfas-in-paper-and-board-food-packaging
My rule of thumb is if it stays in our environment without benefiting our environment – it is most likely going to be found to harm our environment in 20 years time as has been found with many substances in our history like plastic, PFOAS, CFCs and more.
So What Can Organisations Do?
Mass participation to events is changing. Participants are more environmentally aware, more conscious and events need to respond. Carbon emissions and waste go hand in hand. Reduce un-necessary stuff means the reduction of manufacturing, transportation, & waste management.
In events, take out the un-necessary stuff that will be wasteful such as:
- Cups – participants are mostly responsible adults. Announce that you are a cupless event and that participants will need to carry their own cup/water bottle/hydration pack. There is an increasing number of runners who BYOR some sort of hydration device
If you’re really concerned about the small percentage that will be irresponsible – then have some reusable cups ready at hydration points and give them a rinse between use! Your participants will make sure they bring their own cup next time or use their hand.
NOTE: Most ultra & LDWA events are BYO. There are over 20 marathon / half marathon events in the UK that are now cupless and the numbers are increasing. This action will both have a water saving and a reduction in overall waste generated.
- Pointless goody bags with gifts that are like party poppers – fun for a short period of time and quickly become rubbish to the majority. Easy to get rid of them, as a number of small events (less than 2000) already have done so.
- Water points – site them near places that have taps to refill reusable water dispensers. In countries like the EU the tap water is drinkable and so again reduces the carbon emissions of transporting water around 26.2 miles round a course plus more.
- Food – buy in bulk / use zero waste shops / purchase fruit that is in season in crates – and return those crates to your supplier.
- Provide an option for a Zero Waste runner – these are the runners who enter because it is an event. Allow them to opt out of t-shirts, goody bags and medals.
The best starting place for organisers is to evaluate the amount of waste their event is generating and see how to can create a “zero waste” event. The ultimate word that organisers can focus on is REDUCE….
Recycling should be the last option and the smallest option…..AND if organisers feel really guilty that they are now in fact spending less, then provide runners with a nice meal at the end!