THEY have become ground zero in the debate over how to combat the rising tide of plastic waste polluting the planet.

And now one of Scotland's oldest and most famous sporting institutions has joined the ranks of those calling time on single-use water bottles, with the R & A pledging to rid this year's Open Championship of their presence once and for all.

This year's Open, in Portrush, Northern Ireland, will become one of the first major global sporting events to discourage use of plastic drinking containers, and will instead provide fans with refill points and re-usable bottles made from recycled material.

Dubbed the Open Water initiative, the move is supported by UN Environment’s Clean Seas campaign and aims to raise awareness of the issue of global marine plastic pollution and the need to protect the world’s oceans and coastlines, including the marine life that inhabits them.

It comes as public pressure mounts on governments to tackle plastic pollution. Even players at the Open will be given the reusable bottles, although these will be personalised versions with their names engraved on the outside.

HeraldScotland:

Plastic pollution is a world-wide problem

Martin Slumbers, Chief Executive of The R&A, said: “The Open has a close relationship with nature and the coastal system of the world’s finest links courses and it is important that we safeguard them for future generations.

“We have all learned so much of the destructive impact of plastic in the world’s oceans and we believe we have to take steps to remove all single-use plastic water bottles from The Open in order to encourage fans and players to use alternative and more sustainable materials.”

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Every year, an estimated 2.5 billion single-use drinks container sold in Scotland alone, and those that are not recycled end up in landfill or, worse, entering the environment.

The rising tide of plastic pollution has led to warnings being sent out a cross the globe by charities and governments about the threat to the world oceans, which are now thought to harbour approximately 51 trillion microscopic pieces of plastic, weighing 269,000 tons as well as huge floating garbage patches.

The Open is following the lead of major music festivals which have also moved to drastically cut the use of plastic bottles, bags and other items.

Last year, 61 music events around the country signed a pledge to rid themselves of single-use plastic by 2021. Led by the Association of Independent Festivals, the Drastic on Plastic project aims to completely eliminate plastic drinks bottles, straws, glitter, food trays, cable ties and toiletry bottles from festival sites.

Glastonbury has already announced that there will be a site-wide ban on plastic bottles at this year’s festival.

Elsewhere, the use of top-up fountains encouraging people to carry reusable bottles has been growing.

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Last year, Scottish Water said it would install a network of hi-tech "top-up taps" in about 30 towns and cities over the next two years, with the first fitted outside the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh.

Other taps are planned for Glasgow, Ayr, Dumfries, Dunfermline, Fort William Milngavie, Oban, Inverness and Aberdeen.

HeraldScotland:

Millions of bottles are bought each year

More than 5,000 special edition reusable BPA-free Bluewater stainless steel water bottles will be given to fans free of charge at The Open, and they will also be on sale throughout the venue while fans will be welcome to bring their own refillable water bottles to use at the Championship.

'Life Water' cans made from 70 per cent recycled aluminium - which can themselves be recycled -  will also be used as ready-sealed containers to provide water in some areas of the venue.

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Daniel Cooney, Communication Deputy Director from UN Environment said, “Sport offers a unique opportunity to engage with a global audience on environmental issues.  We commend this initiative to tackle marine plastic pollution.  The Open offers a powerful platform to influence how people think about drinking water and its associated impact on the natural environment.”

Anders Jacobson, co-founder and CEO of Blue, the impact-led investment company which owns Stockholm-based Bluewater, said, “We are honoured and delighted to be collaborating with The R&A on The Open Water project, which blazes a purposeful message of the key role world class sporting organisations can play when it comes to leaving a cleaner planet for future generations."