Environment Agency urges sports industry to combat plastic waste

The Environment Agency (EA) is calling on sporting organisations across the nation to advance efforts to combat the issue of plastic waste.

The board is presenting new advice to sports clubs, venues and event organisers pertaining to the reduction of ‘avoidable’ plastic waste as part of the drive. The guidance includes the promotion of plastic-reducing initiatives such as the introduction of water refill stations; campaigns to minimise superfluous food packaging; and the provision of an increased number of recycling bins.

Through the guidance, readers can also find out about challenging suppliers; the waste hierarchy; and the lifecycle of a plastic bottle. Additionally, the EA’s advice makes use of case studies that detail how certain organisations achieved their plastic-reduction targets. One example of which is the New Forest Marathon, England, which replaced plastic drinks bottles for runners with cardboard cups that were subsequently collected and recycled. Runners who dropped used drinking vessels outside of designated disposal zones were disqualified for littering in order to communicate the importance of waste reduction to participants.

The guidance also points towards the Big Plastic Pledge website: a campaign that aims to tackle plastic waste in the sporting world through eradicating the use of single-trip plastics, founded by Olympian Hannah Mills.

The EA’s advice was produced on behalf of the Interreg Preventing Plastic Pollution (PPP) project: a partnership of 18 French and English organisations, which seeks to identify and target plastic pollution hotspots; implement effective solutions and alternatives; and embed behavioural changes in local communities and businesses in order to reduce plastic waste.

The project hopes that with a reduction in plastic refuse, the sporting industries can strive towards the commitments outlined in the EA’s EA2025 five-year plan to create a ‘better place for people, wildlife and the environment’, as well as meeting targets set out by the UK Government’s 25 Year Environment Plan.

Around 12 million tonnes of plastic enter our environment each year. Of all plastic produced, 50 per cent is for single-use plastic items, which are used only briefly before being thrown away. It is estimated that major sporting events can generate up to 750,000 discarded plastic bottles apiece.

Tokyo 2020 sailing champion, Hannah Mills, commented: “By harnessing and unifying communities by the power and reach of sport, through the athletes, events, fans, volunteers and brands, the lasting impact is almost unimaginable.”

“I encourage everyone to make a pledge to reduce their single-use plastic consumption via the Big Plastic Pledge.”

Project lead Hannah Amor, from the EA’s plastics and sustainability team, said: “Experts tell us that 50 per cent of all plastic produced is for single-use items – things that are used for only a few moments and then thrown away. This is having a detrimental impact on our planet.”

“The sports industry is in the unique position of being able to influence millions of people worldwide by leading the way in sustainability and setting a good example. By minimising avoidable plastic consumption, the industry can help reduce the impact of plastic on our planet, reduce its carbon footprint and contribute to the climate crisis – possibly saving money at the same time.”

Andy Daish, Event Director at the New Forest Marathon, said: “Every event organiser has a responsibility to protect the environment they use. Furthermore, we are blessed with a perfect platform to communicate these key messages to those who visit the event.”

“The New Forest Marathon is passionate about protecting the wonderful and diverse habitat and raising awareness of wider environmental issues. We work closely with key stakeholders to ensure we have zero impact on the local habitat and hope the event plants a seed for wider behavioural change.”

Barry Hopkins, Director at Sporting Events UK, noted: “We have been looking at our carbon footprint and our plastic waste over the last few years.

“We have been using reusable timing chips, with low plastic content, which can last for hundreds of thousands of active scans. Many of our signage items are produced in such a way that we can reuse them at future events.”

“As an industry, it is important that we use best practice to help each other and drive forward initiatives to reduce waste, in particular, the plastics used. We continue to engage with all our suppliers to see how they can reduce plastic waste in their supply chains, and be more eco-friendly in their approaches.”