Going green at OMTOM
Old Mutual Two Oceans Marathon #GOGREEN campaigner Karoline Hanks shares her ambitions to make events plastic-free.
For most of us, plastic forms a major part of our daily lives. From the moment you pour milk into a cereal bowl to start the day, to the moment you opt for a bag at the checkout, to the sugary treat you quietly sneak after dinner, plastic always seems to be there.
This reality isn’t too dissimilar for marathon runners, as plastic water sachets are typically the go-to water source for parched participants looking to quench their thirst. But what if there was a simpler way? Karoline Hanks is the founder of SUPA, which stands for Single Use Plastic Alternatives, and it's her ambition to help OMTOM look at ways of reducing plastic and plastic waste.
As the world’s most beautiful marathon, the OMTOM puts in every effort to make sure that all plastic waste is picked up and recycled. Last year, with the support of WILDLANDS and Old Mutual a #GOGREEN campaign was started, where plastic waste was recycled and turned into Green Desks for schools in need. The campaign was a huge success. This year Hanks will be running as a #GOGREEN ambassador, to raise further awareness around plastic waste.
Plastic, not fantastic
Hanks dreams of a future where races don't rely on plastic sachets. "Events like the OMTOM do very well with cleanups after the race, but we are trying to avoid cleanups entirely so that there is no waste footprint,” says Hanks, excited at the possibility of this becoming a reality in the near future. “And there is potential to go much bigger than just one race. It would be wonderful if we saw other races adopt this mindset too.”
The solution for a plastic-free race is a literal pipedream. After working with Richard Sutton, an experienced race organiser, Hanks came to learn of an ingenious method to create a race without the need for single-use plastic. The concept revolves around unmanned water stations made of a collection of frames, pipes and cockstop taps, all connected to a ‘mother tank.’
“These frames can be a many metres long. Runners can come to a station with their own collapsible bottles or hydration packs and they can push and refill to an amount that will satisfy their needs." At the OMTOM Ultra Marathon there will be three hydration pack refill points along the way; as well as the usual water tables the always feature at the OMTOM, the refill stations will be placed at 17km, 26km and 46.3km into the race.
Hanks's vision makes for a marathon utopia, where single-use plastic will cease to exist. Plastic is a malleable substance that is derived from petrol, diesel and other chemicals and can take centuries to degrade. The sad end of used plastic is that it often finds its way into our oceans to create large floating masses of lighters, bottle tops and the like.
When plastic breaks down, it splits into billions of little polymers which are picked up by microplankton. These polymers do not break down further, and are carried by the microplankton; microplankton is then consumed by larger sea creatures. These polymers don’t break down entirely and eventually make their way on to onto our plates at the dinner table.
“This is a tragedy for both humans and ocean life. There is a projection that by 2050, 99 percent of marine animals will have ingested plastic. But we can help contribute to change this by creating a plastic free race and lead by example. We could be pioneers for South Africa and the rest of the world. The idea of having these refill water stations is a win-win for everybody. We save water and reduce plastic use.”
Carrying her own
To raise awareness, Hanks along with several other WILDLANDS campaigners will be running the OMTOM Ultra Marathon. “We will be totally self-sufficient and will be running in the same kit. Our shoes will be sponsored by adidas”
Hanks has been running with a fuel belt for years now, and with that has gained a wealth of experience.
“The way I tackle a run, is that I carry a single bottle and if I can guarantee that there will be a water table around the halfway mark I know I can run a full marathon comfortably. Many teams are actually adopting the use of fuel belts - these are great because you can carry food. I prescribe runners' use a belt over a camel pack, because if you are going to refill a camel pack, you will waste a bit of time taking it off, filling it and then adjusting it.”
As for the near future, Hanks is making positive strides to negate the use of single-use plastic at the event, and is proving to everyone that running sustainably won’t come at a cost of enjoyment or efficiency.
“For the 2018 OMTOM we are trying to raise more awareness and encourage people to be self supportive. What we really want people to know is that running in a self supportive matter doesn’t compromise times or just how much fun you have. The opportunities are endless.”