#RunClean campaign encourages litter management at road running events

Submitted by: Amanda Botes, Thursday, May 19, 2016

Image of runners and litter

Road running events have become synonymous with litter. The #runclean campaign is trying to change this through education and awareness (Image Source: Old Mutual Two Oceans Marathon).

#RunClean is a campaign launched in South Africa to reduce the amount of litter discarded at road running events. The campaign was started by Modern Athlete, a South African running publication, in 2015 and targets individual runners, running clubs and race organisers.

According to Sean Falconer, editor at Modern Athlete magazine, the idea for the campaign came about during a discussion he had with the CEO of Modern Athlete magazine, Craig van der Westhuizen, “We were chatting about the large numbers of plastic water sachets that get dropped on the road at road running events and came up with the idea of an anti-littering campaign. We showcased it in our magazine and it received some interest, but after sharing it on various Facebook running platforms the campaign went viral.”

Road running and plastic water sachets

Plastic water sachets are commonly used to provide refreshments to runners on route. Although this is convenient, it also results in a large amount of litter (Image Source:  Modern Athlete)

Falconer explains that the campaign is mainly targeted at the plastic water sachets that are provided at refreshment stations along race routes for road runners. “At official IAAF road running events, race organisers are required to provide water to athletes every 3-5kms.” The majority of water and other refreshments, such as powerade, are supplied to runners in plastic sachets which are convenient for both runners and helpers. However, a large amount of these sachets end up in the environment, despite cleaning teams being employed to clean up after the events. “There is a perception among road runners that it is ok if they litter as there are clean up teams that will pick up the sachets at the end of the race. However, not all of the sachets are picked up as some are thrown into drains, under cars and launched into the bushes by runners. On a windy day, which is a common occurrence in cities such as Cape Town and Port Elizabeth, the sachets end up being blown everywhere except on the road, and end up in our open spaces, rivers, and oceans,” explains Falconer.

Culture of littering at road running events

“Unfortunately there is a culture of littering in South Africa and it is no surprise that it occurs at road running events. The difference between road running events and other sporting and music events is that usually it is the spectators not participants that leave the litter behind. In addition most sporting events take place in a closed arena, but road running events take place out in the open and people can see the impact of the litter on the environment,” elaborates Falconer.

Impacts on the environment

“Plastics take hundreds of years to degrade and are not biodegradable, they just break down into smaller micro particles. These plastic micro particles end up in our drainage systems, in our water supply and in our oceans which impacts on wildlife and on human health. An autopsy was recently conducted on a beached whale in the Western Cape and it was found that its stomach was full of plastic. There shouldn’t be any plastic from running events going into our oceans and the #runclean campaign aims to reduce the impact that road running events have on our sensitive environments,”  explains Falconer. Many road running events are held in sensitive environments and Falconer adds that if littering from these events gets any worse, the nature reserve managers or municipalities may no longer allow the races to be held in these areas, “If the running events do not have waste management plans they should be banned. The litter at these events is giving the sport a bad name and it may come to the point where municipalities and nature reserves no longer allow these events to take place for this reason.”

Alternatives to plastic water sachets

Falconer explains that at this stage a viable alternative to the plastic water sachets in road running has not been found. “We have looked at using cups but they take too long to fill. Biodegradable cups were also tried but seem to melt if the water is left in the cup for too long.” Falconer states that the solution lies in the responsibility of athletes themselves to either keep their litter with them or use hydration packs that are commonly used in trail running. “We are trying to educate runners to use the bins that are provided on the route or to keep their litter with them, by sticking it in a pocket or belt. An easy way for runners to keep their litter with them is to sew the three sides of their provincial license number so that it forms a pocket at the top where used sachets can be stored.”

How to get involved in the #runclean campaign

The #Runclean logo is used at all running events where the campaign is adopted (Image Source: Sean Falconer)

The #runclean campaign is targeted at individual runners, running clubs and race organisers. Falconer says, “We have made it our mission to promote a cleaner sport and try to eradicate the litter problem in our races, by continually reminding runners to think before they throw. Runners can stick the litter in their pockets or waistbands, it will not weigh you down or cost you a pb [personal best time], and you can dispose of it correctly at the end of the race. The front runners often drink and drop their waste which often creates a precedent for the backmarkers and new comers to the sport as they think that is the correct behaviour. That is what we want to change through the #runclean campaign through educating one person at a time. ”

In addition to individual runners, Modern Athlete is working with running clubs, associations, and race organisers to adopt the #runclean campaign. “Western Province Athletics has recently become the first athletic province to officially endorse the #runclean campaign, and has asked all races in the province to add the #runclean logo to their entry forms, work with the province to improve their litter management plans, as well as contact Modern Athlete to officially sign up for the campaign,” elaborates Falconer. A number of races have officially signed up to the campaign, including the very prominent Old Mutual Two Oceans Marathon, the Old Mutual Om Die Dam Marathon, the Vital Winelands Marathon, and the Dis-Chem Half Marathon in Gauteng.

“There is no charge to sign up as an official #runclean event. In exchange, Modern Athlete not only promotes these events in the magazine and through its digital and social media platforms, thus potentially increasing entries and giving sponsors positive kudos for their association with the event, but thanks to a new partnership with East Rand Plastics, producers of Garbie products, we can now send free dustbins, bin liners and rubbish bags to events that sign up with the campaign,” explains Falconer.

Education is the key to litter management

When asked about the key components to a litter management campaign Falconer emphasises the importance of education, “You can place more bins in prominent places, but this will still not solve the problem. The key to successful litter management is education. People often don’t understand the bigger impact that littering has on the environment, and that litter can poison water and fish and affect human health. Through the #runclean campaign we are aiming to improve the understanding of the public by working through the running clubs and events and through social media platforms. We need to work together to solve this problem. Every person that stops littering is a step in the right direction.”

You can follow the campaign on Facebook.

To keep updated with sustainability news subscribe to the fortnightly Urban Earth Newsletter.

Amanda Botes