One thing that has always dismayed me when I participate in running events is the amount of empty water cups strewn along the road. What’s ironic about this is that many of these running events are supposed to promote environmental awareness!
Some runners and environment advocates typically point fingers at the runners. There are trash bins, they say, so why can’t you runners throw the cups inside these trash bins?
I try as much as possible to throw the cups into the trash bins but I admit that there are occasions where I am guilty of throwing cups onto the road. You can’t really put the full onus on the runners—many runners are in these events to officially establish their own personal records, and they don’t want to slow down. And why not put trash bins further away from the hydration station?
To be fair to the organizers, I do see them sweep up the discarded cups. And in some runs I even see some of the “street urchins” collect these cups. I know that there are some places that “buy” these cups (e.g. dyaro-bote) and some money can be made from these cups. So they do eventually end up into a trash bin.
But whether or not these cups go into a trash bin is not really the issue. It’s the amount of plastic cups that eventually get thrown away. Now, I’m no environmental expert. I don’t know if plastic can be recycled and, if it can be recycled, how much of it can actually be recycled. All I know is that plastic equals bad and the less we consume the better for our environment.
So the question is: why do we use plastic cups in run events? Is there a better alternative?
For example, why not biodegradable cups? I’ve always wondered why don’t these running events advocate paper cups instead of plastic cups. Is it because paper is more expensive than plastic? In the old days, when running was not this popular, we were served in paper cups and, to facilitate drinking from these cups, I would pinch the rim to form a funnel.
And Run Philippines has an interesting idea:
What if, instead of hydration stations with pre-filled cups, runners bring along 500mL bottles that can be refilled at the station. On an average day, 3k runners will most likely not need a refill. 5k runners one refill? 10k runners 2-3 refills? After the run, you can still take the bottle home. If you feel this will affect your PR, perhaps you can help the environment by investing in those hydration packs or belts.
In fact, when you come to think of it, it’s the elite runners who really need the hydration stations. That’s because they have trained their minds and bodies into well-tuned running machines that mere grams of weight or anything that can alter their running form can spell the difference between victory and defeat. So they don’t bring water bottles. But for us mortals, what’s carrying a few extra grams? For the average runner, it’s training, hard work, and mental fortitude that gets us to the finish line. So why can’t we bring along our own water?
So while we shouldn’t hold runners for being fully accountable for the environment, we runners too can do our share of protecting Mother Earth. Bring your own bottle and being less reliant on hydration stations is one way—opt for your own personal bottle rather than swiping off the hydration station. If you’re not in it for the personal record, then stop and fill up your water bottle instead. More importantly don’t throw that water bottle away! And while you’re at, don’t have to throw your empty energy gel sachets onto the road. That energy gel must have come from somewhere—either your pocket or your hydration belt—so put it back where you got it.