Minutes to midnight. How an Ultimate Frisbee community can face the plastic waste problem at the tournaments?

We live in a fairly fragile world where our every action brings a reaction. Quite literally. As humans we take, but barely give anything back affecting everything around us. We’re ignorant to the problems around us and yet we want someone to fix the nowadays issues. Because why should we care when there’s a new cool device or tv show to take our minds off that cute panda not having a home anymore? And there are so many problems that we barely know what to take care of first. Humanity is the worst parasite that this world has to face and it’s not going to survive us. But it’s taking us down with it because we’ve got nowhere else to go.

Source: GIPHY

In the plastic world

At the end of high school, I’ve attended a student exchange in Munich called Horizons 2058 with students from six European countries. That’s where we truly looked at the issues that the world back then was facing. Equipped with a camera, a notebook and a city map we were ready to look, ask questions and listen. After a week we came up with very personal views on what the future will be like. For some, it was loneliness, time travel, the virtual cities, the collapse of the world and finally the pollution. As for the 18-year-olds, it was a grim glimpse of the future.

Sadly the visions of the future were not simply bleak harbingers. These days we’re on the fast lane to things getting out of control. Maybe we’re too far gone? According to What a Waste 2.0:  A Global Snapshot of Solid Waste Management to 2050 the global waste will increase by 70% on current levels by 2050.

What a Waste 2.0: A Global Snapshot of Solid Waste Management to 2050
Source: The World Bank

The world is waking up to the plastic waste and other nagging problems. While some are stubbornly trying to ignore the issues, others are making sure to raise awareness with campaigns. You can’t miss the controversial Greenpeace dead whale stunt or Adidas adapting sustainability in their marketing plan. Even a certain movie company joined the fight against the plastic with their dirties movie ever (because they filmed it on the dirtiest beach ever, duh!).

Source: GIPHY

Tournament plastic waste

If you go to the Ultimate tournaments, then you know how easily they produce waste. All you need is the catering leftovers, plastic bottles and other kinds of trash. It seems like in many cases it’s unavoidable. In the end, as a tournament organizer you have to ensure that the players have something to eat. Water is essential at any sports competition. Tea, coffee, snacks might be optional, but they are needed too.

A sad and electrifying sight was the mountain of plastic that we faced at the Polish Beach Ultimate Championships. While we were cleaning up the beach after the first day we knew we could have done more while organizing the event. The championships took place on a remote beach where it’s hard to reach the shores by any means of transport.

Hours after the first and second day of the tournament we were picking up the leftover plastic bottles that were left abandoned by the field or across the beach, while newlyweds were shooting their “happily ever after” photos. The gathered mountain of waste was the kind of sight that doesn’t let you sleep well, because you know something went horribly wrong. It would be an excuse to say that beach tournaments are difficult to manage because you don’t have the infrastructure.

Still, it’s up to us – the players, tournaments organizers to enforce and carry out the steps to make the tournaments at least minimum waste. That’s when a challenge came to life.

Source: GIPHY

Zero waste challenge at Polish Youth Ultimate Championships

Photo by: Cool Events

Polish Youth Ultimate Championships took place in Starogard Gdanski, a small city in the north, at the beginning of September. The teams, which took up the mantle where:

  • 71 Wratislavia
  • Flow Junior Blue
  • Flow Junior White
  • Grandmaster
  • Flash Mad Hatters
  • MAU
  • Ohana
  • Young Brave Beavers
Photo by: Cool Events

The tournament organized by Cool Events dedicated to u20 players in the mixed division was a one-day event. It was one of the factors why it was easier to go Zero Waste. The City Stadium fit two Ultimate Frisbee pitches with some space for warm-up practice. The closeness of the infrastructure made it easier to refill the re-usable water containers. The players could also use hot water for tea or coffee. The tournament didn’t use any food containers during the lunch hours as the restaurant was right next to the pitches. Of course, it doesn’t mean that there was no plastic in sight. Some players were using plastic bottles.

Polish Youth Ultimate Championships 2019

In the end, the tournament organizer calculated that the waste produced by them was just 20 wooden stirrers. It means that with the right approach and small input you can do something good for the environment. The key components lie in the strategy and the logistics of the event. It’s one step closer in the right direction.

Photo by: Cool Events

What about the tournament outcome? The welcoming north weather decided to welcome the player with “the winter is coming attitude”. It was raining in the second part of the day and the brave, young athletes had to face difficult weather conditions. It was just 13C and raining. Still, they played good games and gave it all. The youth teams showed great skills and confidence, which is a good sign for the near future. Hopefully, these tournaments will keep growing. The finals were not a surprise – Young Brave Beavers faced off Flow Junior White, which this year took advantage of their opponents’ mistakes and won the Youth Champion title.

Polish Mixed Ultimate Championships take on the problem

Photo by: Arleta Serocka

The bigger the tournament, the more problematic becomes the whole logistic of things. The Polish Mixed Championships went through some changes last year. In 2019, the format of the championships hosted two leagues in one location. The first one had 12 teams while the second just 11.

Obviously, a big event like that comes with a lot of planning. Acquiring volunteers always seems like a big problem. How about going zero waste with 23 teams in one place?

See what the organizer of the Polish Mixed Championships 2019 had to say:

From local to global media the message is clear – we as mankind produce too much waste. The question is – does changing habits of the individual have any impact compared to industrial scale of commercial sectors in developed and developing countries?

Well, I don’t know. I do know though that cleaning up after another Nationals I was saddened to see the amount of plastic left over by the catering company. So the plan was to produce less environment damaging trash in 2019 and here’s where I focused:

1. Food – switching from plastic to biodegradable packaging. This was the hardest one. The market is changing, but catering companies are following many-year-long routines. We were lucky to have an understanding partner. The problem was lack of supplier and with 400-odd pieces of packaging no bulk discounts were available. We did switch lunch and dinner packaging to biodegradable at the expenses of raising the players fee.

WIN: lunch and dinner packaging will dissolve in a month or two.

LOSS: higher fee, same amount of waste compared to the “plastic” days.

2. Water – served in containers, instead of purchasing bottled water from the shop. Tap water is drinkable in Poland and has been for quite some time, however it turns out many (young) people have some sort of a stigma – and were examining the water as it was not crystal clear. Estimated consumption of water in the average Ultimate game stands at about 20-60 litres (depending on the intensity and weather). Time it takes to transport the container to the nearest tap, refill it and ride back: 5-8 minutes. Players will be without water for some time, unless organiser has MANY containers (6 fields with two containers per pitch = 12 containers)

WIN: vast majority of water provided during the games was from 20l containers refilled with tap water.

LOSS: individual players still preferred bottled water. 6 containers were available resulting in water-outage periods during the games. Additional volunteer needed to handle the water. Storage needed to keep the containers for the rest of the year. Cost to purchase additional containers.

3. Paper – printing documents. This idea materialised out of the blue. Why are we not using apps to handle the communication with the teams? So despite not planning for this feature originally, I decided to additionally develop an app where I can quickly publish communication to the teams – display declared roster, provide the schedule and easily navigate them to the venue. Statistics showed that about 16% of the players installed the app (no iPhone version existed)

WIN: virtually zero questions about the schedule.

LOSS: only Android version available. Might be a cost if a professional developer was to be hired – affects the fee.

Photo by: Arleta Serocka

These were the main zero waste initiatives, however also a conscious decision of not producing useless “gifts” – which are normally of low quality and single or no-use at all, and most often made of plastic. A consideration was also given to switching from trophies to a roaming trophy – as is the case with EUCF (IIRC one trophy serves 10 seasons – new winners get a plaque and the honor of taking the trophy with them for the next year).

Summary: being eco-friendly costs more money. The venue also dictates the terms – if your tap is several hundred metres from the fields, it will be difficult to provide refilling service at a discomfort rate that players are ready to accept. Some venues will have local catering facilities (big plus), other need external providers (this generates packaging). The amount of trash collected during the event was still huge – estimated at 20 sacks of circa 120 litres each (per day). More efforts and education is needed to decrease that amount. However this time big part of this waste will decompose naturally…

Photo by: Arleta Serocka

Like it or not, it’s not something we can ignore. As individuals, we can still do something for the world around us. If you think it isn’t something that concerns you then imagine playing a beach ultimate tournament on the dirtiest beach on this planet. How would that make you feel? Forget about layouts and running. You wouldn’t even set your foot on that beach, would you? That’s the reality we all have to face starting…yesterday. The clock is ticking and it’s not like we have another planet to go to.

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