Tips On Reducing Our Plastic Use Whilst Participating In Sports
You can't get in to sports or the great outdoors without plastic being involved somewhere along the line, but what can each of us do to stop or at least reduce the amount of plastic we use when participating in events or just out for a run?
For all the bad rep it get's, plastic is not the worst material in the world. Some applications for it are a match made in heaven, but others, like single use food wrappers are where there are problems. The plastic has been created, using a lot of energy, natural resources and all for it to be immediately thrown in the bin once it's finished with.
It ends up in the oceans, our water systems, it's even in a lot of sea life and mammals and we bury it in the ground as waste, for it to take centuries to biodegrade, which is a problem.
Plastic is a problem in everyones lives and we're all on our own journey to hopefully reduce our use of it, and because of that, I wanted to write this article to showcase what other options are out there and how the industry and us as outdoor people can help, even if it's just by a little bit.
What Sports Food Items Use Plastic
We'll concentrate on food items, as thats mainly what this site is about, but plastic makes up the majority of our outdoor gear. You will more than likely find it in your footwear, trousers, jackets, t-shirts, sunglasses and backpacks.
There are brands that exist which are creating clothing and sports gear from recyclable clothing, but we'll save that for another post.
Nearly all sports foods or outdoor foods come in some form of plastic packaging, whether you buy them in bulk or as individual food items.
This is why we should be questioning our need of this material and where we can improve upon it.
Energy & Protein Bars
Energy bars, protein bars, flapjacks, fruit and nut bars, whatever type of bar it is, doesn't matter, they will all still have the same sort of wrapping used to keep the food contents shelf stable and fresh.
Luckily, there are a handful of brands making more eco style packaging, mostly compostable wrappers but out of materials that are better for the environment than the mass produced plastic wrappers found on nearly all bar types.
Unlike water bottles, which you can reuse over and over, for many years, gels are the complete opposite.
One of the worst culprits for plastic waste are energy gels. They're held in your pockets, backpack or bumbag (fannypack) and used in just a matter of seconds.
This is fantastic for pursuits which need quick energy and take up very little time to consume or digest. But for the environment and waste, it couldn't be any worse.
There is some good news on the horizon, with the Ooho water and lucozade energy sachets. But these aren't being sold to individuals yet, but instead used at mass events like the London Marathon.
So make sure to keep an eye out for them, or better yet, ask the events you partake in to get them on to their food and drink aid stations. This means you can attend the event knowing you're taking less plastic waste and you still have hydration and energy sources to keep you going.
Similar to energy gels, hydration powders can come in small plastic and foil sachets, which once used, are simply tossed away in to the bin.
There is a better alternative that you can't get with energy gels and that is, you can purchase these in bulk and in large bottles which will help with the amount of plastic used to store the powder. So it does have this advantage over energy gels which only come in small sachets that are single use.
Camping food and their packaging are leading the race when it comes to plastic packaging. There are quite a lot of non-plastic based options for you to choose from, some are shown below in the food list.
Reduce Reuse Recycle
It's in that order for a reason, first we are meant to reduce our plastic use as much as possible, then reuse and finally recycle. If we keep that order in mind, we will use far less plastic than we need and will say no to plastic use before we even purchase it, which means we don't have to deal with the waste once we have finished with it.
Before we get started with reduce, reuse and recycle, we'd like to give plogging a mention.
Ever heard of plogging? We hadn't until last year, but it seems we plogged regularly before we even knew what it was.
Plogging basically means, to pick up litter on your run.
With that in mind, you can remove plastic debris and litter from your local running path or your open water swimming area, bicycle lanes and much more. Each and every litter pick will help make the world around us that bit prettier and our outdoor adventures more enjoyable.
How about organising a monthly plog with your running group and detrash areas that have plastic litter and waste.
This is the most important rule to follow, by actively trying to reduce your plastic use, you are creating less waste, it's as simple as that. This may be the hardest approach, as you still need to fuel and hydrate yourself during your activities.
You can reduce plastic by not buying plastic, or by buying items that come in different packaging materials.
Another way is buying in bulk, so if you are looking at a hydration powder, look in to the larger bottles. This way you can scoop the powder in to your sports drink bottle and not have to bin anything at that moment. These larger bottles can be recycled in some instances as well, which is a big help.
Some tubs that come with powder in them can have 35, 50, even 100+ servings, which means 100 less small plastic packets being binned. Instead you can reuse the plastic tub for something else or recycle it.
This one might be easier than reducing your plastic waste. Instead of continually buying single use plastic bottles, food items and then throwing them away, look in to packaging and approaches that means you can reuse the plastic to hold your food and drink.
The main thing with this is hydration, using a water bottle that you own and can reuse is a good approach. Don't go for the single use plastic water bottle, instead fill your own bottle and use that for all your future adventures. We have a couple of water bottles that have lasted us years and even use glass water bottles for use in the car or hiking.
Some brands, like Mule are creating larger plastic vessels and gel packs for you to put your gels in to. Which means that you are purchasing less plastic overall and continually using a larger gel sachet to hold your gels.
One of our favourite ways to reuse plastic for food is with a silicone pouch.
With a reusable silicone food pouch you can fill it full of any home made food items, they only weigh a few grams and if you're doing a long distance event means you don't have to carry too much extra weight with you. With one of these, you can carry a full days worth of food to keep you going and not have to put anything in to the bin. Just take it home and wash it for use the next day.
If there is no other option, then at least look in to recyclable food product packaging. At least with this, the energy used to create the plastic goes back in to the system and can be reused for something else in the future which is much better than being put in to landfill.
On each and every food item in the database, you can see if the product packaging is recyclable.
Always Take Your Rubbish Home With You
One thing to remember when recycling or discarding plastic wrappers is to make sure that when you have consumed the food, you store that wrapper somewhere safe until you can recyle or discard it. Always take it back home with you or find a bin in which you can recycle or discard of it, doesn't matter if it's a banana skin or a protein bar wrapper, it all needs to be taken care of responsibly.
What Plastic Free Or Eco Packaging Choices Do You Have
Below we go in to more detail, outlining some sports supplements and outdoor foods that are plastic free, or at least recyclable and more environmentally friendly.
At the very bottom of this page, you will find the ever growing and developing comparison table of sports foods and outdoor foods which have some form of eco packaging. As we update the websites database with new food items, if a new food item fits in this table, it will be automatically added, so make sure to check back in the future for new eco innovations in the food packaging world.
On the table, you should be able to see a packaging column, which will show you what sort of eco packaging, that food item has.
One of the easiest options to pursue are foods that have compostable packaging. Whether it's for an energy gel, energy bar, protein bar or even camping food packet, there are quite a few options out there.
Nearly all eco packaging and non plastic style food wrappers that we have in our database are compostable first.
This is great news, there are multiple brands pursuing this type of packaging to hold their food items and keep them fresh.
Compostable means that they will degrade over a short period of time, from days to weeks, but can be put in with your usual house hold food waste and return to natural elements without leaving a trace of anything bad.
This is still a more environmentally way of creating a wrapper or packaging for food items, but it is not as good as compostable packaging. Biodegradable packging can and will degrade over time and can be composted. But it will take a far longer time, as little as a few months to years for it to fully biodegrade.
This is why composting is one of the best ways to create a packet. It will degrade back in to natural elements much more quickly.
If you have a packet or wrapper that says it will biodegrade, it probably means in an industrial facility and not at your own home compost.
Is The Future In Edible Packaging
In 2018 there is a new style of wrapper that is being used at large running events called Ooho and it is made my Notpla, which we're guessing literally means Not plastic.
They have engineered an edible sachet style packet which can hold water and other liquids and gels and is even edible. They are made of seaweed and other plants and if you choose not to eat them whilst you consume what's inside, you can still discard of them and they will biodegrade in just a few weeks, which not only makes them edible, but compostable at home as well.
This has to be the best way to create future packaging. It literally means that zero waste is created and the whole item can be consumed.
Notpla are also using their packaging for sauces and other liquid based foods and drinks. So make sure to check them out at Just Eat or your local takeaway when ordering your next pizza.
Other Seaweed & Plant Based Packaging
Another seaweed based packaging company out there is Evoware. They aren't yet creating mass produced packaging but they are supplying seaweed packaging for food items that are sold by other food manufacturers.
They have both an edible grade and a biodegradable grade style packaging.
Seaweed-based packagings are good for small-format food sachets and wraps, e.g. instant noodle seasoning, cereal, single serving coffee powder and the complements, rice wrap, burger wrap, etc. It's good to replace your conventional packaging to enjoy your delicious food in a convenient and healthy way, and a best way to save our only earth. It can also be used to package the non-food based contents such as toothpicks, soap bars and sanitary pads.
There are other plant based packaging companies out there, but we are yet to see them move in to the food industry. Mushroom packaging is one of these, that make 100% compostable packaging from mushrooms.
It would be great to see this company work and partner with other companies, so that when bulk food items are sent out, at least a part of the logistical process is using environmentally friendly packaging.
There are advancements in the packaging world and in the food industry as well, only time will tell how quickly these new developments make it in to the mainstream.
Actionable Tips Summary
To recap some of the things you can do to help stop the tide of plastic pollution in todays sports and outdoor activities, here are some tips that we've gone through but in an actionable list.
- If you're running or doing exercise for less than 45-60 minutes, you don't need to take any food or drink with you.
- If it's warm or hot then take a reusable drinking bottle, we love our Camelbak Chut water bottle and soft water bottles for racing.
- If you are going to purchase energy bars, or gels to consume every 30-40 minutes, look in to those listed below like the Lucho Dillito Guave Blocks which come wrapped in a bijao leaf.
- If doing longer events, put food in to a reusable silicone pouch that can be used over and over and hold all the food you require, we've had great success with these on long days out on the trails both cycling and running.
- If you're participating in an event, ask them about their water supplies, filling your own bottles up or use their cups if they're using compostable cups.
- If hydration powders get you by, look in to the larger tubs, which mean you will be throwing less plastic away, rather than single use sachets.
- On your easy days out training, why not give plogging a go and pick up some rubbish, this will help your area look cleaner and show others that littering is bad.
- Always take your rubbish back home with you and dispose of it properly if you are using gels and foods with wrappers on them.
Sports Event Organisers
If you're an organiser of an event, especially longer distance or events over a long period of time and supply food and drink at aid stations, here are some suggestions to reduce your plastic use.
Home Made Foods
Sometimes, home made foods are the best food to have at an event. You will only use the plastic wrappers the ingredients came with and when cooking in bulk
Use Plastic Free Foods
Below we suggest plastic free foods like the Ooho water and Lucozade sachets. Individuals are unable to purchase these food products, but event organisers can.
There are plenty of natural foods which have their own packaging, fruits. Bananas, oranges and melons are all fruits which come without any plastic and can be cut up in to smaller segments to be served at aid stations.
We have other foods like the Lucho Dillito's which come wrapped in a bijao leaf. Thats right, an energy bar/gel food item which is wrapped in a tree leaf, the bijao leaf. This can be composted and the contents eaten on the go and means that no actual waste is created.
Plastic Free Hydration At Events
If you are providing hydration and water to event participants, why not try cardboard cups or compostable clear cups.
The great thing about these cups is that they look like any other plastic based drinking cup, can be filled with water, used and then composted. If you check out the reviews, these cups can even be reused over and over, which makes them even better. Simply set out one table filling these with water for participants and then have large buckets to throw them in to down the road. Even better, you could use weaved baskets and stay clear of larger plastic tubs.
Sports & Outdoor Foods With Eco Packaging
Here you can find a comprehensive list of all sports foods and outdoor foods which have environmentally friendly packaging. This isn't to say that they are perfect, some are far from it, but they all offer a positive step forwards in how we package our sports foods.