A week ago Fast Running brought us the news that the winner of the Hong Kong 100k had been disqualified for littering. This week we learned that there’s a new trend called ‘plogging’, where you pick up litter as you run.
Litter is a hot topic right now, and rightly so. Sadly, we runners and cyclists are responsible for a lot. When I go out for a local run on the Ridgeway or Thames Path I often see gel and bar wrappers and it makes me feel really ashamed. I’ve done litter picks after races where there’s been so much litter that I couldn’t fit it all in my backpack. It’s right up there with flytipping on the anti-social behaviour in the countryside scale.
And it isn’t just runners (and cyclists and walkers) who leave litter behind. The tiny percentage of race organisers who aren’t very responsible on the Ridgeway and Thames Path can leave bits of tape and plastic signs hanging from trees and brutally stapled to fences. These are likely to outlive us.
At best, this is just incredibly awful behaviour but at worst it can lead to licenses being refused for races and it can harm wildlife. A sticky, sweet gel wrapper can seem like a tasty treat for a deer, and it doesn’t know you shouldn’t eat it. Deer have died from ingesting litter.
So what can we do about this problem, to protect our environment, our wildlife and our races? Here are 5 suggestions.
- Don’t be an ar*ehole. This one’s obvious. Just don’t drop litter. If you’re at a level of performance where carrying 3g of empty gel wrapper round with you, then you are probably running the 100 metres and there will be a bin nearby, which you can get to in approximately 2 seconds.
- If you see somebody else being an ar*ehole, then call them out on it. ‘I think you dropped something’ will usually work. But of course what you mean is ‘excuse me but I think you are a littering scumbag’. They will hopefully pick up on this passive aggressive undertone.
- If you’re out on a run, make a habit of bringing some litter back with you. It’s no biggie and every little helps.
- Assuming that some litter is dropped accidentally, why take anything you could drop out with you in the first place? If you have to use gels you can decant them into a gel flask, like a bag for life for your gels. Energy bars, sweets, nuts etc can all go in a ziplock bag. No wrappers required and it creates some interesting flavours. Just don’t drop the ziplock bag.
- More enforcement of anti-littering regulations in races like at the Hong Kong 100k would be really welcome. Especially if it’s enforced from the leaders to the last runners. I’ve got photos of some really big names littering at a big ultra, which I was really tempted to use in this article.