Half-Marathon in UK Bans Plastic Water Bottles

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CC BY 2.0. Jay Siggers

Instead, runners will get edible Ooho water pouches for on-the-go hydration.

When I was in London in February 2017, there was a marathon taking place on a cold Sunday morning. The race was wrapping up by the time I wandered into Trafalgar Square, but there was a still a huge crowd, barricaded streets, and, to my horror, piles of empty plastic water bottles everywhere, heaped in the gutters and sprinkling the pavement. As I walked south along Whitehall, street cleaners were already hard at work, but there was hardly a place to put a bottle, as every trash and recycling bin was overflowing.

So I was happy to hear about the Harrow Half Marathon's efforts to go plastic-free. Organizers of the 13.1-mile marathon, which is set to take place this Sunday, September 16, decided that no single-use plastic water bottles will be allowed. Instead, runners will be handed Ooho pouches for hydration at three different stations along the route. These are small clear bags made from a seaweed-based membrane (brown algae and calcium chloride) and filled with filtered water. You nip the corner and drink the contents, or ingest the whole thing, as it's entirely biodegradable and safe.

Ooho, which has the catchy tagline "Water you can eat!" has been covered before on TreeHugger's sister site MNN. It is a clever invention that's remarkably simple and cheap to make. Ooho has won awards for design and environmental technology, and surpassed its fundraising goals in the early stages of development. It's an idea that could make a real difference in the fight against superfluous plastic waste, which is awesome.

But regarding the Harrow race specifically, a few things concern me. First is the absence of any water bottle refill stations. The Guardian writes, "Runners will not be able to refill their own bottles. Regular water and biodegradable cups will be available but only as a backup in case of exceptionally high demand." I imagine this is to discourage people from bringing single-use plastic water bottles and refilling those, but for those runners who have high quality reusable bottles that they use all the time, it seems inconvenient and even counterproductive.

Secondly, the official directions on the Harrow Marathon site say that runners can either "swallow the sachets as they are edible or simply throw them away – our volunteers will sweep them up – or they will degrade in a few weeks. The choice is yours." This is an oddly nonchalant attitude to littering, even if a product is biodegradable within 4-6 weeks. If I were eating a banana, for example, I wouldn't pitch it on the sidewalk and assume it will disappear. Streets, roads, and trails should be kept as clean as possible, regardless of an item's biodegradability.

Still, it's good to see the public pushback against plastic water bottles and events organizers taking it seriously. Ooho pouches will also feature at the Richmond marathon and a Tough Mudder in West Sussex at the end of September.