Why the London Marathon Replaced Plastic Cups with Edible Pouches

This year runners at mile 23 were given edible pods filled with a sports drink instead of plastic bottles.

May 13, 2019

The London Marathon is a long-distance running event around the scenic River Thames and across the iconic London Bridge. It is almost as exciting to watch as it is to participate.

An annual event since 1981, the London Marathon is part of the World Marathon Majors and 41,000 athletes participated in this year's edition on April 28.

While running is a great sport, it's not the most environmentally friendly. Last year, London Marathon participants left a whopping 919,676 plastic bottles strewn along the course. This year the organizers took steps to make sure the event was much more sustainable.

On mile 23, runners were handed Ooho edible pods made of Notpla, a material that combines seaweed and other plants, that were filled with a sports drink. The pods are completely edible, tasteless, and biodegrade naturally in 4-to-6 weeks.

All the runners had to do was bite or rip open the pod to drink the liquid inside or they could just pop the pods into their mouths and consume them. The un-eaten pods were thrown on the ground to decompose naturally.

The pods were manufactured by a London start-up called Skipping Rocks Lab and are cheaper to produce than plastic at only about 2 cents each.  

"What we use is the building blocks of seaweed,"  Rodrigo Garcia Gonzalez, one of the startup's founders told CNN. "We remove all the green stuff and the smelly stuff."

The pods were designed for people on the go, according to the startup, so runners and marathons are a perfect fit for the product.

This was the first time the pods were used at a full marathon, but they have been tested at smaller sporting events like the Harrow Half-Marathon. "The marathon is a milestone ... we are hoping we will demonstrate that it can be used at scale in the future," Rodrigo Garcia Gonzalez, one of the startup's founders told CNN.

The approximately 30,000 pods distributed along with other eco-friendly initiatives like compostable cups at two other drink station helped reduce over 200,000 plastic bottles. The rest of the drink stops used water bottles that were made of at least partially recycled plastic, and all discarded bottles were recycled, according to CNN.  

This was part of the London Marathon's commitment to achieving zero waste by 2020. “It is a huge challenge as we must balance providing proper runner welfare with reducing our environmental impact,” Hugh Brasher, the event director said.

"The changes and the trials we're introducing for this year have the potential to change how mass participation events are delivered in future," he said. "Everyone can make a difference: our participants, spectators, contractors, volunteers and staff.”

Other sporting organizations are also going green, including the 2020 Olympics and the New York Yankees who joined the UN Sports for Climate Action Framework.

Going green is a big move for the London Marathon. Hopefully, other major marathons like the Berlin, New York City and Boston marathons will follow suit and provide drinks in eco-friendly packaging.

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Bonnie Riva Ras has dedicated her life to promoting social justice. She loves to write about empowering women, helping children, educational innovations, and advocating for the environment & sustainability.