London Marathon to trial compostable cups

By: Clare Fischer
Date posted: 20 April 2018

Runners at this Sunday’s 38th London Marathon will be offered water in compostable cups for the first time in the event’s history.

London Marathon bottle debris
© Jan Kraus

When material is replaced we need to ensure it doesn’t contain hidden plastic (paper cups for instance can be lined with plastic), but where material that is compostable is used, it needs to be collected separately and have an arrangement to send to a commercial compost facility.”

Dr Laura Foster,
MCS Head of Clean Seas

An event the size of the London Marathon gets through an estimated 750,000 bottles of water, resulting in several tonnes of waste. Now, the UK’s most well-known mass participation sporting event is trialling the use of compostable cups for runners at three of its drinks stations.

It’s not the first big running event to up its sustainability credentials. Last weekend the Brighton Marathon was handing out paper cups to runners, which organisers say are much easier to collect than plastic bottles.

On their event website, organisers said they had seen ‘huge wastage of liquid when using 500ml bottles of energy drinks and 330ml bottles of water, where runners would take a few sips and then discard the bottle. Using paper cups allows better distribution of fluid across the course.’

Event organisers also say the clean-up operation is essential for the permission of the event. ‘In order for us to receive an event licence we need to give the city back to the community as quickly as we can after runners have passed along the route.’

Hugh Brasher, Event Director of the London Marathon, told BBC Radio 5 Live that the event is “really keen to be at the forefront of events sustainability.”

Mr Brasher said: “We recycle the bottles, there are recycling teams and we try and use compostable cups.”

Dr Laura Foster, MCS Head of Clean Seas, says it’s great that large events are looking at how they can reduce their single-use plastic: “When material is replaced we need to ensure it doesn’t contain hidden plastic (paper cups for instance can be lined with plastic), but where material that is compostable is used, it needs to be collected separately and have an arrangement to send to a commercial compost facility.”

There has been some debate in the running world over the amount of water you can get in a bottle compared to a cup and the ease with which you can drink from a cup whilst running. Mara Yamauchi, the UK’s second fasted female marathon runner behind Paul Radcliffe, said one good tip is to squeeze the cup and create a spout to make drinking easier.

This year’s London Marathon is expected to be one of the hottest in recent years.

Three drinks stations will be trialling compostable cups instead of bottles this year. Water stations at miles 10 and 19 and Lucozade Sport at mile 23 will offer drinks in compostable cups. Organisers have been suggesting that runners try drinking from a cup in training before Sunday.

Do you want to help stop the plastic tide? We are currently calling on UK governments to put a charge on single-use plastic throwaway items and demanding that big fast food chains stop giving out millions of plastic cups, stirrers, straws and cutlery but instead replace them with reusable or fully compostable alternatives.

Actions you can take

  1. Help us stop the plastic tide
  2. Download the Great British Beach Clean Report 2017

Did you know?…

Over time, one plastic bottle bobbing along in the ocean can break down in to hundreds of tiny plastic pieces

Every day millions of microplastics enter the sea from personal care products such as scrubs and toothpastes

Litter has increased by 135% since 1994, with plastics increasing by a staggering 180%