More balls please, Wimbledon – time to ban plastic bottles?

It’s that time of year when we all sit on our sofas and offer our wise commentary on the best tennis players in the world locking horns at Wimbledon. I haven’t watched much, but enjoyed the Federer-Nadal semi-final and will be watching this afternoon’s men’s final.

Wimbledon have been under pressure for some time though to rid the event of plastic bottles – Glastonbury and Lord’s cricket ground have managed it, so why can’t the All England Lawn Tennis Club follow suit? There’s a petition here, and it seems a pretty straightforward argument.

If there are, say, 967 matches in a Wimbledon tournament (singles, doubles, qualifiers, juniors, wheelchair competitors and seniors/invitation doubles – yes I sat and added them up), and every player gets given 2 bottles per match, this is 4658 plastic bottles for the players, at an absolute minimum. The carbon footprint of a plastic bottle is estimated to be 82.8g of carbon dioxide per 500ml bottle, so this adds up to 385kg, just for the players. An estimated 420,000 bottles are used across the whole tournament, which equates to an enormous 34 metric tonnes of carbon dioxide (this totally might be an incorrect calculation – my maths is crap – but it’s loads).

But it’s ok, because they’re recycled, and recyclable.

Evian have been the official water supplier at Wimbledon since 2008 and renewed their sponsorship deal in 2017, to extend until 2022. They’ve promised to make all their bottles from recycled plastic by 2025, and this year at Wimbledon they are piloting bottles made from 100% recycled PET; this is an attempt to move from a linear model to a circular one (another article here on this from the sexily-named Packaging News – don’t tell me I never give you anything). Evian are also working with Loop (remember them from the Terracycle post?) to enable a continuous loop for recycling at high volume.

So I was thinking about this, and whether it does make it all okay, or whether it’s yet another big green wash to make us believe that Evian are super-eco and ethical, while they’re actually just trying to get us to buy more pointless bottles of overpriced water. Of course it’s better that the water bottles are recycled and recyclable, keeping plastic out of landfill and the ocean, but what about the carbon footprint of making them in the first place, and the onward recycling? Wouldn’t it be better if they didn’t exist at all?

What are the alternatives for Wimbledon, and similar sporting events? Provide all the players with Evian-branded reusable water bottles? Lots of them seem to be decanting their own energy drinks into Evian bottles anyway, rather than drinking water on court. But what if a player forget to bring their regulation Evian bottle to a match – do they get given another one? What’s the carbon footprint of making x-00 reusable plastic bottles? (I haven’t got the time to calculate how many players compete in the tournament, sorry!) Or should Wimbledon ditch the Evian sponsorship and ask players and spectators to bring their own bottles? (And sell Wimbledon-branded ones to those who forget?) Would that impact on ticket prices – and should we even care about that? Are they contractually able to divorce themselves from Evian anyway, after extending the sponsorship deal?

Or have we forgotten that plastic is evil, and we should only be using stainless steel? Except you have to reuse a stainless steel bottle 500 times to cancel out the carbon impact of its energy-intensive manufacture. I can’t find many sources for a similar calculation for how many times a plastic reusable water bottle would have to be used, although this article suggests it might be as few as three times.

To be fair, Wimbledon seem to be doing quite a lot of impressive work to improve the sustainability of the event and I’m sure they will respond to the petition in due course, but it’s food for thought on our own water-bottle usage. I’ve got a brilliant pink plastic reusable bottle which I love, but it took me a while to find the right one which didn’t leak. My husband was given a stainless steel bottle at a festival recently, which he didn’t use much as he had brought his plastic one – so does he owe that one 500 uses to justify its existence? Lots of people don’t want to buy expensive reusable bottles for their kids, as they get lost or smashed. Nothing is simple, it seems!

I’ve got no definitive position on this, other than that we should use what we’ve got and look after it, so answers on a (recycled) postcard, please.

Meanwhile, here’s a picture of a beautiful bit of ocean (taken at the Paros Philoxenia hotel, one of my favourite places on this magnificent planet), to remind us what we’re doing all this for.

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