Athletics can produce a lot of excess waste. From the bandages required to patch up the little bruises and scrapes to disposable cameras to capture favourite moments to the socks young children discard in lieu of washing them to the Oral Rehydration Salts (ORS) that seems to be handed out as “juice” at times and at others to rehydrate children who aren’t drinking enough water. (By the way, it turns out that ORS, which always come in non-recyclable multi-layered foil packaging can be made at home–here is a great DIY recipe.)
Over a month ago I was trying to think about Sports Day waste to see what we might minimise this year. I remembered that on the field where they serve ORS as well as at our tea and tiffin breaks each day that we used paper cups (which are never just paper because they are lined with plastic and so are actually mixed waste). I found out that Shunya Alternatives sells every kind of bowl, cup, plate, and take out dabba you can think of and all of them are made out of sugarcane. That’s right! These are compostable items. I ordered some samples to test them out and when I brought them to the attention of my school I was told not to worry about it because they’d use tumblers for everything this year.
I thought, “great!” Because stainless steel tumblers that we wash and reuse will always be better than using something we toss. At the first day’s tiffin and tea I saw we were indeed using the steel tumblers, but we had paper-plastic ice cream bowls. I was quite disappointed that we hadn’t checked beyond the drinking glass issue because I could have ordered bowls, too, or at least made it clear that this was also an option. (Ideally, our dining hall should invest in one set of stainless steel bowls for future such events.) But then the second day came and at tea time I saw there were no tumblers. Instead there were the paper-plastic cups. So this morning I went to speak with the dining hall manager directly (instead of with our main office) and showed him the sugar cane cups. He seemed impressed and he agreed to use them. They seem to have been a success, with one exception: the bins where people chucked them afterwards got mixed with plastic and other miscellaneous waste. I had hoped they’d be put in our dining hall’s compost pits after tea, but I couldn’t find them there at all.
There was one other interesting development this year: a baby step towards gamifying waste (a Herculean task at a school that doesn’t–except for sports–believe in competition). With the help of the twelfth standard students, a relay race for old students, parents, and teachers included a new leg this year. The first part of the relay included an area of the track littered with various types of waste. Each team had to pick up all the waste and not just put it in any bin, but they had to put in the correct bin (paper, plastic, or mixed waste) in order to tag the next person for the next leg of the race. You can see how that all worked out below. I’m not sure it really served the purpose of raising awareness, but it’s a start.