It was an ambitious plan, to turn a popular village race into Scotland’s greenest 10k – but thanks to the efforts of an energetic team of organisers, sponsors and supporters, a Stirlingshire community pulled it off.

Hundreds of runners enjoyed a plastic-free, recyclable and sustainable experience at the 2019 Mulberry Bush Montessori Balfron 10k earlier this summer.

Plastic water bottles were ditched in favour of refillable ones donated by Scottish Water; wooden medals replaced imports from China and could be used afterwards as keyrings; and social media was used for publicity instead of flyers and posters. Runners were also asked to consider car-sharing to get to the event in a bid to minimise air pollution in the village.

Julie Ross, one of the organisers, explains: “We’d noticed what many of the big festivals were doing to reassess their policies on plastic waste and recycling, probably the most obvious being the ditching of plastic bottles.

“There is incredible wastage of plastic bottles during a 10k event – most runners grab a bottle, take a sip of water, pour some over their heads and then chuck the bottle onto the grass verge still almost full. We thought, ‘we can do better than this’.”

Once the decision had been taken to avoid plastic bottles, the next step, adds Julie, was to see what else could be done to turn the Balfron 10k green.

HeraldScotland:

Balfron 10k finisher Scott Hardie with his wooden medal-cum-keyring and Scottish Water resuable bottle.

“As individuals, and as a community, we are all waking up to the importance of sustainability and environmental responsibility and we wanted our event to reflect that,” she says.

“Scottish Water’s commitment meant we had a solid base from which to build. They supplied 50 or so water bowsers for our water stations and finish line as well as 500 refillable bottles for our runners to take home and reuse.

“We also were supported by Vegware, which provided 1,500 biodegradable cups. Hydration is one of the most important considerations when putting on a running event so knowing we had that key element covered was incredibly reassuring.”

The challenge of getting water into thirsty runners remained, however, and Julie admits, with a laugh, that practice runs enjoyed a mixed degree of success.

“We had a few goes at filling the cups and bowsers to ensure we knew how quickly to work on the day – and what our spillage rate would be,” she smiles. “We had some wet feet and clothing during those rehearsals.”

The team was keen to use local suppliers – the oak medals were bought from social enterprise The Workshop in Aberfeldy.

Instead of plastic carrier bags in which to take home their goodies, runners were given Big Fat Bags – recyclable, collapsible shopping bags which can be used for many years to come – donated by the supplier, who lives locally.

“The only item we were unable to source locally was our finisher’s T-shirt,” adds Julie.

“We would have liked to use recycled materials, or even bamboo, but the cost was too great and since all our profit goes to our local schools and charities we decided to stick with our polyester design.

“A Balfron graphic designer created an attractive new logo for us this year, which reflected our green theme so hopefully the T-shirts will be valued and not thrown away.”

The changes meant more legwork for the 10k committee, who worked hard to find local businesses and suppliers. It was frustrating at times, admits Julie.

“Although many people we reached out to supported our aims and ambitions, not everyone was able to help,” she says. “We did, however, have great support from Bamboo, a clothing company hundreds of miles away in Plymouth whose boss thought what we were doing was brilliant.”

The results were worth it – as well as avoiding mountains of plastic bottles to clear away afterwards, leftovers could be donated to Balfron High School for its sports day; the bowsers will be used next year and the feedback from runners and spectators was overwhelmingly positive.

Julie says: “We’ve had nothing but praise for our initiatives.

“Our runners especially liked the refillable bottles and cups as, for majority of them, the sight of plastic bottles littering the running route is a real bugbear. They appreciated the time and effort we had put in trying to change the emphasis of the race and the ‘green’ goodies they got at the finish.”

The race was started by Balfron High School ex-pupil and former Scotland rugby international Rory Kerr, who after sounding the horn, quickly joined the pack and ran the course in a very respectable 50:42.

Two new course records were set –Peter Avent of Shettleston Harriers was first male home in 32:49, and first female Michelle Sandison of Springburn Harriers beat her own 2018 record to cross the line in 37:39.

There was entertainment, races for younger athletes from the Balfron schools and beyond, and crowds lined the village to cheer on the runners.

The organising team is already turning its thoughts to next year.

“We hope to build on what we have done in 2019 and hopefully attract more like-minded supporters and sponsors,” says Julie.

“We are looking at how we can change our T-shirts, the ribbons for medals, bunting, packaging and road signage.

“Our inaugural eco-friendly event has been a great success – now we want to go even greener for 2020.”

It seems the trend for more eco-friendly events is catching on with last weekend’s Strathearn Marathon also looking to local suppliers for medals and other resources.

HeraldScotland:

The Herald’s Climate for Change initiative supports efforts being made by the Scottish Government with key organisations and campaign partners. Throughout the year we will provide a forum in The Herald newspaper, online at herald.scotland.com and in Business HQ magazine, covering news and significant developments in this increasingly crucial area.

If you are interested in contributing editorially or interested in becoming a Climate for Change partner, please contact Stephen McTaggart on 0141 302 6137 or email stephen.mctaggart@heraldandtimes.co.uk