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Special Blog – Ban The Bottle

Special Edition Blog: Whither the Bottle?

Below is a blog by USA Track & Field Chief Operating Officer Mike McNees:
 
In
April, I had the pleasure of attending the heralded Penn Relays and
“USA vs. the World” for the first time.  Held on a perfect spring day,
it was a rare event where the reality easily surpassed my expectations,
and my expectations were pretty high.  My most vivid memories of the
day are of the blue sky, the green-and yellow-clad Jamaican fans, the
outstanding performances of Team USA, the roar of the crowd … and the
water bottles.

 

I
saw them first as well-organized armies of pallets holding stacks of
shrink-wrapped cases waiting for action.  Each bottle then lived a
short and probably exciting (for a water bottle) life in a tub of ice
on the infield, then in the hands of an athlete or official.  Sadly,
there were no survivors — at the end of the meet on Saturday there was
nary a full bottle to be found, only scores, even thousands of “dead
soldiers” covering the infield, like the victims of some pint-sized
plastic D-Day.  Someone then had to pick them all up so they could be
thrown away.
 
This, of course, is the catch.  As sustainability
pioneer William McDonough says, there is no such place as “away”. 
Those pieces of shiny plastic are with us essentially forever, perhaps
to be recycled into another shape, burned into carcinogenic dioxins, or
broken down into smaller pieces to ultimately infiltrate our food chain
(see link below).
 
Let’s say that over the course of the Penn
Relays Carnival, 10,000 athletes competed and each one took just one
bottle of water.  Some of those empty bottles are destined to live a
second, recycled life, but eventually all 10,000 will be thrown
“away”.  Repeat this process, albeit on a smaller scale, at every
junior, masters, and every other kind of track meet or road race
throughout the country on an annual basis.  The impact of all of that
plastic is enormous, and we’re not even talking about other sports yet.
 
Certainly
our elite athletes must take great care to not drink from unsealed
containers, given the potential consequences of a positive doping test
resulting from a tainted bottle.   A career could certainly be ruined.
 This does not mean, however, that every 12-year-old miler or
collegiate official needs bottled water.   I participated in more than
a few track meets in the days when bottled water was something my mom
poured into the steam iron, and when suggesting one pay $4 for a bottle
of water from a concession stand might get you committed.   There are
alternatives, not the least of which is the best public water supply in
the world.   It is a public water system, by the way, in which we have
collectively invested billions of dollars, only to turn up our nose at
in favor of an environmentally toxic plastic bottle filled with water
that is produced and bottled without a fraction of the regulatory
quality control of our public water.
 
The ban-the-bottle
movement is not new, and at least two states have banned the use of
public money for bottled water (second link below.)  But in spite of
growing awareness of things like the floating Pacific garbage patch
(third link), the effects of plastics in our environment, the energy
costs to produce and distribute bottled water, and the cost to buy it,
that movement is gaining traction very slowly.
 
In the track and
field community, we tend to see ourselves as the more erudite,
enlightened end of the sporting spectrum.  Is there a “greener” city
than Eugene, Oregon, and is it simply coincidence that Eugene bills
itself as “Track Town”?  I think not.  More likely there is a shared
ethos between the track and field and environmental communities.  My
question is, do we continue to perpetuate bottled water, this poster
child of our modern, unsustainable excesses, in the name of expedience,
convenience, and profit?  Or do we say that no, this we can stop? 
 
Our
challenge to coaches, associations, meet organizers, including
organizers of USATF championship events, and anyone else in
decision-making positions, is to say no to bottled water for your track
and field events.  If you’re not sure what the other options are, call
an old-timer like me – we’ll remember, and be happy to share for all of
our sakes.   
 
Links:
http://www.greenbiz.com/feature/2007/05/04/plastic-waste-more-dangerous-global-warming
 

 
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Pacific_Garbage_Patch  
 
USATF
Chief Operating Officer Mike McNees traces his track and field roots to
the days of cinders and drinking from a jug.  In a 25-year public
service career prior to coming to USATF, he served local governments in
Florida and Idaho in many capacities, one of which was running the
water department.

 

About USA Track & Field
 
USA
Track & Field (USATF) is the National Governing Body for track and
field, long-distance running and race walking in the United States.
USATF encompasses the world’s oldest organized sports, some of the
most-watched events of Olympic broadcasts, the #1 high school and
junior high school participatory sport and more than 30 million adult
runners in the United States.
 
For more information on USATF, visit
www.usatf.org
 

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