This weekend saw tens of thousands of runners take to the streets of the UK capital for the London Marathon 2019.
But this year the marathon had an environmentally-friendly twist, in the shape of edible plastic-free water capsules handed out to runners in place of plastic water bottles.
Runners have to stay hydrated on the 26.2 mile route — but the environmental impact of the hundreds of thousands of plastic water bottles needed for this is concerning. In 2018, some 920,000 plastic bottles were used.
Organisers hoped that by handing out the capsules at some drink stations — with compostable cups used at others — they would cut down the number of plastic bottles being used by 200,000.
That’s why London-based startup Skipping Rocks Lab was brought on board. Instead of traditional single-use water bottles, runners were handed the capsules that have liquid encased in a natural seaweed membrane.
“The marathon is a milestone,” Rodrigo Garcia Gonzalez, a co-founder of the startup, told CNN. “We are hoping we will demonstrate that it can be used at scale in the future.”
The lining of the Ooho! water capsules can be eaten or, if runners don’t want to eat the lining, it also biodegrades in six weeks, according to the Independent. That’s compared to the 450 years it takes for a plastic bottle to break down.
The capsules have also been used at music festivals — with espresso martinis apparently being the most popular product at festivals, according to CNN.
The startup is also working on alternatives to cling film and the plastic liners used in disposable coffee cups.
In another step to help reduce the marathon’s environmental impact, organisers also reportedly guaranteed that water bottles that were handed out would all be at least partially made of recycled plastic.
These bottles were then reportedly collected and recycled to help form a “closed loop” system. Bottles were collected in Tower Hamlets, Greenwich, Southwark, and Canary Wharf and returned to a reprocessing plant to become new bottles.
The marathon event director, Hugh Brasher, said that the “changes and the trials we’re introducing for this year have the potential to change how mass participation events are delivered in future.”