Green lessons for Mumbai Marathon from Bengaluru

GREENING THE CITY RUNS

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Bottles lie strewn around at Worli Seaface as the Mumbai Marathon (January 2014) is in progress. Pic: Bipin Kokate

The Mumbai Marathon is a special race. Great weather, flat course, the sea breeze and  wonderful crowd support from the cheerful Mumbaikars during the race — all this is rare to find in any other Indian city. The city which never stops, halts completely for a few hours so that runners can have the roads to themselves.

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I have run this race many times. Every time I come back with some great memories. Procam organises the race efficiently and participation is higher every every year.

But if there is one thing that I have not seen any improvement in—and it can surely improve by leaps and bounds—it is waste management and waste reduction.

Be it the single use 250ml plastic bottles, Tetra Paks distributed at aid stations, cold food packaged with thin plastic at the finish line (that hardly anyone can eat post-run), there is a huge scope for improvement in making the event greener. While the message on littering is a great, the onus is on the event organisers to raise the bar.

The finishing area a day after the Mumbai Marathon earlier in 2018. Pic: Shilpi Sahu

Following are the top five areas that the organisers of the Mumbai Marathon must aspire to address:

Cut down on single use disposable water bottles

Plastic water bottles can only be downcycled and never recycled into another bottle. Every plastic bottle you use is made from a non-renewable resource — petroleum.  Although this is recyclable, it will not be recycled into another bottle but into clothing items. The recycling of plastic and incorporation of synthetic fibres into clothing items leads to problematic microfibre pollution.

In addition to water bottles, organisers can have dedicated refill stations with water dispensers and reusable cups so that runners who prefer carrying their own bottles can fill water. This also reduces wastage of precious drinking water as most fast runners will throw away the bottle after a sip. Organisers must refrain from using paper cups as they have a plastic coating which reduces its recyclability.

Zero waste holding area for pre/post race

Why do we need 250 ml bottles at the finishing line? At this point, the runner needs to drink a lot more water than a few sips. The holding/finish area must contain only water dispensers with reusable cups.

Eliminate premixed electrolyte Tetra Paks with straws and plastic

Replace them with the powder equivalent and have the volunteers mix it in jugs and pour it into cups. Straws and plastic covers have virtually zero recycle value. Tetra Paks are also non-recyclable and can be upcycled only through the seller company’s CSR initiative.

Stop serving packaged cold food post-run

We runners deserve better. Period. Please serve hot food on steel or biodegradable arecanut/ leaf plates. This also reduces wastage of food and unnecessary wrapping which is again non-recyclable.

Compulsory waste audit

Please do a detailed waste audit post event and make the data public.

Learn from Bengaluru

For one example, Procam just needs to look at its sister event TCS 10k organised in Bengaluru every May. There are single use water bottles, but there are also refill stations and reusable cups especially catering to the Dream run equivalent – Majja run, that usually has a large number of runners who are not focused on a fast finish. The post race meal last year was freshly made, hot and served on biodegradable areca nut plates.

Another large city marathon to look up to is Bengaluru Marathon organised by NEB sports that has embraced green initiatives right from its first edition, from zero waste race hydration to post run hot food on steel cutlery. Even the event booklet given in the goodie bag carried a page on reducing the waste footprint.

Analysing the waste generated

Two events, Airtel Delhi Half Marathon (By Procam) and Bengaluru Marathon by NEB Sports were held on the same day, October 21 2018, albeit in two different cities. Below is a brief analysis of their waste reports.

Airtel Delhi Half marathon (ADHM)

The official numbers of participation are not known but could be around 20,000. The waste report for the event can be found here. Some of the highlights were:

  • Participants were asked to carry their own bottle and refill. It is not known whether the event had specific refill arrangements for those who chose to carry their own bottles.
  • Food was served on biodegradable areca nut plates instead of plastic plates or bags.
  • Banners were kept at the event to inform the runners about waste segregation and littering. There were bins for wet and dry waste as per the above report.
  • Bio-waste from the toilets was sent to a Sewage Treatment Plant.
  • 410 kgs of single use plastic bottles, equivalent to 60,000 of them in mumbers, was generated at the event.
  • Nearly three tonnes of flex banners was produced in this event. Unfortunately, flex is non-recyclable and can only be repurposed into temporary roofing for low income groups. I was surprised to know from Venkat, who collects and donates flex to slum dwellers in Bangalore, that the life-span of this material is 6-12 months only!

Bengaluru Marathon (BM)

This had 16200 participants and the waste report can be found here.

  • No disposable bottles were used in this event. The entire event was managed using reusable hard plastic cups and refill stations. As a result there was no litter on the road after the run.
  • Limited number of Tetra Paks were used for electrolytes, although refill stations were also providing electrolytes in reusable cups..
  • Freshly cooked meals were served on melamine plates and steel cutlery. Cut fruits were given out on leaf ‘donnais’.
  • There were zero flex banners. All banners were printed on cloth as flex is now banned in Karnataka. All canvas used at the event was sent for upcycling into cloth bags. Kudos to the organisers for the great move. This eliminated more than a tonne of non-recyclable flex.
  • It is noteworthy that only around 200 kgs of miscellaneous dry waste was produced in this event.
A comparison of waste generated at the Bengaluru Marathon and the Airtel Delhi Half Marathon (ADHM)

Both events had a large amount of excess food waste. Though it was managed responsibly, it would be good to know why so much food was wasted and avoid the same in the future editions.

Key differences between ADHM and Bengaluru Marathon

  1. Huge difference in the generation of flex waste: 3 tonnes vs none.
  2. Huge difference in dry waste quantum: 2880 kg vs ~200 kg.
  3. ADHM needed 300 waste handlers. Most of them were busy picking plastic bottles and Tetra Paks thrown by the runners on the 21-km route. On the other hand, Bengaluru marathon had just four Field Staff, one Supervisor, one Project Manager (apart from event volunteers, to manage the waste. The quantum of waste was greatly eliminated due to reusable cups and waste generation was largely limited to the area where food was served.

It is a great example of taking a few simple steps to cut down waste at source and reduce the effort required to manage it.

Click here to check for a few pointers on how to conduct a zero waste marathon event.

For the next edition of the Mumbai marathon coming up soon on January 20 2019, Procam must take concrete steps to reduce and eliminate waste instead of merely generating messages against littering. The Mumbai Municipal corporation must evaluate and monitor the amount of waste generated by this mega event and insist on a detailed waste audit. As the title sponsor, TCS must insist on a greener roadmap for the event.

Please sign the petition to ensure that the run leaves Mumbai a clean and green place.

Finally if you are a runner, measure your Personal Best performances not only by the hard work you put in and the race outcome, but also by the waste you leave behind.


About Shilpi Sahu 3 Articles
Shilpi Sahu is a techie, running enthusiast, SWM advocate and an amateur artist, all rolled into one.

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