London Marathon Sets New Standard for Sustainability

Marathon London 17

On paper running is a beautifully simple sport but we all know that when we run a marathon, we have a certain amount of environmental impact. We travel to the race, we use plastic bottles, we drop gel wrappers, we pick up plastic goody bags with lots of bits of paper in. Over the last few years a number of races have made some big changes to try to be more environmentally responsible. This year the Virgin Money London Marathon are stepping up their commitment to this.

Hugh Brasher, Event Director for London Marathon Events, said: “We are passionate about the concept of Eliminate, Reduce, Reuse and Recycle and fully committed to reducing our environmental impact. We believe we run the best mass participation events in the world and we want to match that by leading the world in mass participation event sustainability.

“Working closely with our partners and local authorities, we have developed some truly innovative initiatives and plans to make this year’s Virgin Money London Marathon the most sustainable ever. This challenge is huge as we are looking at sustainability across a myriad of factors: just some of the areas we are currently working on include reducing CO2 emissions, transportation of runners (both internationally and within the UK), a reduction in the use of generators and plastics together with more local procurement of event infrastructure.

“We know our participants share our passion and want us to take action. It is a huge challenge as we must balance providing proper runner welfare with reducing our environmental impact. We can’t achieve everything in one event, in one year, but the changes and the trials we’re introducing for this year have the potential to change how mass participation events are delivered in future. Everyone can make a difference: our participants, spectators, contractors, volunteers and staff.”

The measures they are taking include:

  • Reducing the total number of drink stations on the route from 26 to 19 (a reduction of more than 215,000 plastic bottles on the course, compared to 2018).
  • Three Lucozade Sport stations will use compostable cups rather than bottles in 2019. The cups will be collected and composted at a plant in Bedford.
  • The largest ever trial of Ooho seaweed edible and biodegradable capsules – following a successful trial at The Vitality Big Half, Lucozade Sport will be provided in more than 30,000 edible Ooho seaweed capsules at the Lucozade Sport station at Mile 23.
  • 700 runners will trial new bottle belts designed to carry the 250ml bottles used at London, made from 90 per cent recycled materials. This could be a big innovation in changing how water is provided at mass participation running events. The bottle belts will be collected for cleaning and reuse.
  • 500 runners will trial wearing specially designed Virgin Money London Marathon capes at the start and finish. These capes will then be collected and cleaned for reuse. The idea is that this could reduce the need for plastic kit bags and for baggage lorries to transport runners’ kit from the start to the finish.
  • All Green Start runners will have their race numbers printed on demand at the Virgin Money London Marathon Running Show. This is a great idea because currently race numbers are pre-printed for all 52,000 accepted runners and some 10,000 runners do not make it to the start line.
  • A unique closed loop recycling project for plastic bottles in Tower Hamlets, Greenwich, Southwark and Canary Wharf. Bottles used in these boroughs will be collected and returned directly to a bottle reprocessing plant, where they will be recycled into new bottles. Bottles used in other boroughs will still be recycled but not through a closed loop system.

Other changes runners can expect to see include:

  • Recovery bags given to runners at the finish will be made from 90 per cent recycled plastic and free from unnecessary leaflets and giveaways.
  • No ‘goody bags’ will be given out by LME at the Virgin Money London Marathon Running Show.
  • All race instructions and registration materials will be digital, not printed.

It really sounds as though London has worked hard with all of their partners to find ways to reduce environmental impact through every avenue available to them. A lot of races are heading in the same direction and we hope that London 2019 provides ideas for race organisers and runners to be more aware.