Danish running events take tentative steps towards cutting out plastic

Balloons and water cups are among areas in which organizers of Danish running events say they want to cut down on plastics use.

Danish running events take tentative steps towards cutting out plastic
People line up for a half marathon in Copenhagen in 2015. File photo: Nikolai Linares / Ritzau Scanpix

The organizers of the Aarhus City Half Marathon recently announced they had changed plans to release thousands of balloons prior to this Sunday’s running event.

The decision marks a public recognition by organizers that high-participation sports events like marathons and half marathons can have a negative environmental impact, and that a change in approach is necessary to offset this.

In a country in which the environment was a major priority for voters in the recent general election, it has been necessary for endurance running events, at which thousands of plastic cups are used, to consider their approach.

“We want to lead the way when it comes to more environmentally friendly running events,” Birgit Schultz, head of communication for Aarhus Motion, which organizes the city’s half marathon as well its DHL Relay team running event, told The Local via email.

Chloe Malinka, a marine scientist at Aarhus University, welcomed the decision to drop balloons from the Aarhus City Half Marathon.

“Plastic balloons cannot fully break down in the environment, and these microplastics end up lodged in the stomachs of animals, contaminating our waterways, and infiltrating our food chain,” Malinka told The Local.

Malinka pointed out that two Danish municipalities, Fanø and Varde, have banned the release of balloons from municipal institutions, as Danish media Ingeniøren reported last year. A sizeable number of local authorities in the United Kingdom have taken a similar step, as have four US states, according to that report.

Copenhagen Marathon did release balloons at its 2019 edition, but as a one-off occurrence, said Dorte Vibjerg, director of race organizer Sparta.

“It was one time only, and only because of our 40th anniversary,” Vibjerg told The Local via email. The balloons released at the marathon were biodegradable, she added.

But Malinka said balloons categorized as biodegradable also presented a hazard for wildlife.

“The degradation of these biodegradable balloons only occurs under specific composting circumstances. This degradation is also a slow process, whereby the balloons have the opportunity to be mistaken for food by seabirds, seals, and whales and the balloons end up clogging the stomachs of animals, all before they have the time to degrade,” she said.

In a press statement earlier this month, Aarhus Motion confirmed it would not release balloons while also acknowledging it faces other challenges in order to reduce its overall environmental footprint.

“We can’t change everything at once, so we have decided to look at certain areas in which we can reduce plastic use. That will include removing (plastic) water bags from water stations and instead donating the 25,000 kroner we normally pay for the bags to Danish environment organization Plastic Change,” event manager Jeanette Bøye Sørensen said in the statement.

Finishers’ t-shirts for this year’s half marathon will also be supplied without plastic wrapping.

The Aarhus event, which expects 11,500 to 12,000 runners to participate on Sunday, uses card for half of its drinks cups and a chalk-plastic compound for the other half, Schultz said.

“All the cardboard from the packaging and all the plastic bottles will be recycled,” she said.

Approximately 180,000 plastic cups were used during the 2019 Telenor Copenhagen Marathon, organizer Sparta confirmed to The Local.

The event is working on a way of improving the material used for cups at the event’s drinks stations, Vibjerg said.

“We already cooperate with the InnovationLab of Sports and Copenhagen Municipality about different solutions, (including) new cups made of biodegradable material. But the cups have to work, and we haven't found the right product yet,” she said.

Sparta will test new products at the DHL Relay events it organizes later this year with a view to rolling them out to its other events, the Sparta director said.

“We are looking for more green solutions on everything from medals to t-shirts — maybe they don't have to be mandatory,” she added.

READ MORE: In pictures: Temperatures soar as 13,000 run 2019 Copenhagen Marathon

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‘We still have a chance’: Danish minister’s relief after Glasgow climate deal

Denmark's climate minister Dan Jørgensen has expressed relief that a meaningful climate change deal was struck in Glasgow last night, after a last minute move by India and China nearly knocked it off course.

'We still have a chance': Danish minister's relief after Glasgow climate deal
Denmark's climate minister Dan Jørgensen speaks at the announcement of the Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance in Glasgow on Tuesday. Photo: Andy Buchanan/AFP/Ritzau Scanpix

“For the first time ever, coal and fossil fuel subsidies have been mentioned. I’m very, very happy about that,” he told Denmark’s Politiken newspaper. “But I am also very disappointed that the stronger formulations were removed at the last minute.” 

Late on Saturday, the world’s countries agreed the Glasgow Climate Pact, after negotiations dragged on while governments haggled over phasing out coal. 

Denmark is one of the countries leading the phase out of fossil fuels, formally launching the Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance (BOGA) with ten other countries and states at the Glasgow summit on Tuesday, announcing an end to oil exploration last December, and committing to phase out coal by 2030 back in 2017. 

Jørgensen conceded that the deal struck on Saturday was nowhere near far-reaching enough to keep global temperature rises below 1.5C, which scientists have estimated is critical to limiting the impacts of climate change, but he said the decision to hold another summit in Egypt next year meant that this goal could still be reached. 

“The big, good news is that we could have closed the door today. If we had followed the rules, we would only have had to update the climate plans in 2025, and the updates would only apply from 2030,” he said, adding that this would be too late. “Now we can fight on as early as next year. This is very rare under the auspices of the UN.” 

Limiting temperature rises to 1.5C was still possible, he said. 

“We have a chance. The framework is in place to make the right decisions. There was a risk that that framework would not be there.” 

Jørgensen said that he had come close to tears when India launched a last-minute bid to water down the language when it came to coal, putting the entire deal at risk. 

“It was all really about to fall to the ground,” he said. “The assessment was that either the Indians got that concession or there was no agreement.” 

Sebastian Mernild, a climate researcher at the University of Southern Denmark, said he was disappointed by the lack of binding targets and global deadlines in the plan, but said it was nonetheless “a step in the right direction”, particularly the requirement that signatories to the Paris Agreement must tighten their 2030 emissions reduction targets by the end of 2022.

“It’s good that this thing with fossil fuels has got in,” he added. “It’s a pity that you don’t have to phase them out, but only reduce.”

He said the test of whether the Glasgow meeting is a success or failure would not come until the various aspects of the plan are approved and implemented by members states.