UN Environment worked closely with the UK government to organize a breakfast at April’s Commonwealth summit, where British Environment Secretary Michael Gove met leaders from the world of sport, including Premier League executives, to urge them to search for innovative solutions to the problem of plastic pollution.

Major sporting events can generate up to 750,000 plastic bottles apiece, so the pressure is on to clean up the industry and use sport’s global reach to raise awareness among fans.

Here are 10 examples of sports and athletes that have risen to the challenge.

1) SAILING: Turning the tide on plasticSix small sailboats are on a clear blue sea, with large white sails with print on them. Around the boats are some small motorboats. In the background is a slightly cloudy sky.(Bengt Nyman/Volvo Ocean Race/Flickr)

It’s the race of a lifetime and the cause of a generation. The Volvo Ocean Race sees seven teams race 45,000 nautical miles around the world over eight months in a gruelling competition that aims to raise awareness of sustainability issues, including the threat posed by marine plastic pollution. This year, the Turn the Tide on Plasticyacht is competing to highlight UN Environment’s Clean Seas campaign.

Skippered by Briton Dee Caffari, Turn the Tide on Plastic is gathering data on microplastics as part of the Volvo Race’s Science Programme.

“With the science experiments we’re carrying out on board the boat, we are able to get raw data on the microplastics,” Caffari said. “We are collecting reference data that people can’t ignore so, hopefully, in the future, we’ll see a change in the amount of microplastics in the water.”

2) CRICKET: Going green in India and striking out straws in the UKThe photo shows three men wearing all white, in uniforms consisting of sneakers, long pants, protection over their shins and knees, and polo shirts in a grassy field. All three are white-skinned and have short straight hair. Two are side by side further back, facing the camera, one wearing thick black gloves and squatting, while the other holds a rectangular bat and leans forward. Both are standing in front of goal posts made of white wood. The third man has his back to the camera, towards the foreground, and is standing while throwing a red ball towards the other two. In the background are some trees out of focus.(Lutmans/Flickr)

In Bengaluru and Indore cities in India, a new “green protocol” is being put into play. In Bengaluru, Chinnaswamy stadium has adopted a zero-waste policy, using an army of green-clad volunteers to sort waste and educate spectators during Indian Premier League matches. Around 40,000 fans attend each match in the stadium, generating 3-4 tonnes of mixed waste each time. Because the waste is not separated, it has to be sent to the landfill.

Under a new “green protocol”, separate bins will be kept for dry and wet waste and volunteers will make sure rubbish ends up in the right place. Wet waste will be sent to the biogas or composting plant while dry waste will be recycled. Food vendors have been asked to use areca leaf or corn starch plates.

In Indore, an exhaustive Green Protocol details 72 ways to reduce, reuse and recycle of garbage, including plastic items, in the stadium. The stadium aims to be plastic-free by 2019. A number of partners, including the district and municipal administrations, cricket teams and UN Environment, have contributed to this strategy.

In the UK last year, London’s Kia Oval cricket grounds said it aimed to become completely plastic-free by 2020. The venue has banned the use of plastic straws this season, introduced compostable coffee cups, and is phasing out the use of plastic bags in the club shop. Last year, Kia Oval introduced eco-friendly cups to replace its plastic pint glasses. It also installed 20 free water fountains and taps and provided 20,000 limited edition refillable bottles.

3) FOOTBALL: Spurring others to actFive men are playing soccer on a grass field, running around a white ball with black detailing. All have tan skin and short black hair. Two are wearing white uniforms made up of cleats, knee-high socks, shorts and short sleeved shirts with black writing. The other three are wearing a similar uniform, but with dark blue socks, red shorts and shirts with red and blue stripes with yellow writing. In the background, out of focus, are the stadium stands filled with people.(Jan S0l0/Flickr)

Tottenham Hotspur may not win the Premier League this year, but the English club is top of the table in tackling plastic waste. In April it said it would phase out single-use plastics in its new stadium, due to open next season. The aim is to eliminate plastic straws, stirrers, cutlery and all plastic disposable packaging for these items.

In the United States, Adidas and Major League Soccer released special kits, made out of Parley Ocean Plastic, for matches played during the weekend of Earth Day. All 23 clubs wore the Adidas Parley 2018 MLS shirts, which are made from technical yarns created from plastic waste found on beaches and in coastal communities.

4) RUGBY: Twickenham converts disposable cups to souvenirs
Seven men in uniform are playing rugby on a grass field. Two of them are wearing blue shorts and polo shirts over black long sleeve shirts, as well as black gloves. The rest are wearing black shorts and black shirts with white writing and short green sleeves. All have short straight hair, either blonde or black, and white skin. One of the men is holding a white ball with his back to the camera.(Tom Triebel/Flickr)

Twickenham, the home of the English rugby team, has introduced a reusable Fan Cup to replace the flimsy, disposable cups that were previously used during games.

When customers buy their first drink, they are charged an additional £1 refundable deposit. When they return to the bar with the cup, the price reverts to the advertised cost. At the end of the day, fans can keep the cup as a souvenir or return it and get their deposit back.

Previously, around 140,000 pints of beer could be served during an international match meaning 140,000 cups were likely to be thrown away.

5) ATHLETICS: London seeks answers to marathon plastic bottle conundrumYoung adults are running towards the camera on a street, with grass around them, on a cloudy day. All have white skin and straight brown hair, with paper signs on their shirts with numbers on them, and are wearing tight fitting athletic clothes. A woman runner towards the front is wearing a lime green shirt and black pants, while the three runners behind her are wearing black shorts and short-sleeve shirts, and one towards the back is wearing black shorts and a dark blue shirt. There are more runners in the background, out of focus.(Peter Mooney/Flickr)

This year’s London marathon was the hottest on record but it was also unique because organizers trialled the use of compostable cups to reduce the number of plastic bottles that typically litter the streets after the event. Around 90,000 cups were placed at three drink stations along the route, as well as 760,000 plastic bottles for runners. The bottles were all to be recycled after the race, and the use of the cups will be reviewed.

6) COMMONWEALTH GAMES 2018: Australia’s Gold Coast bursts plastic balloonThe photo shows a big stadium at night, with fireworks being launched around its circular roof. Inside the stands are filled with people. In the center, people can be seen lining up on the field in a ceremony. The field is white.(Spitfirelas/Flickr)

The Commonwealth Games were held on Australia’s Gold Coast in April and organizers were determined to do everything they could to protect this beautiful region and the surrounding waterways and oceans. Helium balloons were banned from the event and spectators were encouraged to bring their own transparent bottle to refill at water points around the grounds.

7) BASEBALL: White Sox step up to the plate to ban strawsA white skinned man is facing towards the right of photo, from where a small white ball is coming. The man is swinging a wooden bat towards the ball with both his hands. He is leaning slightly with his left leg in front, and is wearing a uniform with gray sneakers, long white pants and a white, short sleeved shirt with red letters. The man is also wearing a red helmet. In the back, men in gray pants and red shirts are watching him, leaning against a green fence, on which some wooden bats are resting. The ground is made of dirt, surrounded by green grass. (Peter Miller/Flickr)

In April, Chicago’s White Sox became the first Major League Baseball team to serve drinks without single-use plastic straws as part of Shedd Aquarium’s “Shedd the Straw” initiative.

The team said the move would take more than 215,000 straws out of play over the season.

8) SWIMMING: Taking on the Pacific in the name of scienceA middle-aged, skinny white man is smiling at the camera. He is wearing a tight black swimming suit with long sleeves and the letters "TYR" printed in white on the chest, as well as a black swimming cap with a gray stripe across, with the same letters printed on it. The man has his arms back over his shoulders, trying thin black strings over his back. In the back is the mast and front of the boat on which he is standing, and a bright blue sky.(Ben Lecomte)

At 8,900 km, it’s no wonder it’s being called the Longest Swim. Adventurer and activist Ben Lecomte will set off in late May to swim from Tokyo to San Francisco and all in the name of science and sustainability. Lecomte’s odyssey will take him through the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a raft-like mass of waste three times the size of France.

Lecomte and his support crew will contribute to eight research programmes during the swim, covering everything from plastic pollution to currents and radiation. Using a neuston net and water samples, the crew will make daily collections of marine microplastics to help researchers learn more about these tiny pollutants that are finding their way into our food chain.

9) DIVING: UAE diving enthusiasts go deep to clean sea bedAt the bottom of the sea, surrounded by silver colored fish, a man facing the camera looks up, wearing diving goggles, breathing equipment and a black diving suit that covers his whole body. He is holding some equipment in front of his chest. Above his head, a white and gray manta ray is swimming towards the camera.(Basheer Tome/Flickr)

In the United Arab Emirates, a group of deep-sea divers has been collecting tonnes of rubbish from the floor of the Arabian Sea to raise awareness of the damage caused by plastic waste while also documenting marine life in the area. Mohammad Falasi, a marine biologist, set up the team after he found the sea floor was covered with trash. Now he and his friends conduct clean-ups at the weekend, collecting plastic, metal, glass, ceramics, rubber, wood and charcoal.

10) PLOGGING: The new plastic-battling fitness craze
You don’t have to be an elite athlete to join the battle against plastics. You could try “plogging”. The Swedish trend, which involves picking up litter while you jog, is catching on and there will be plogging events across the globe on World Environment Day on June 5. The name comes from combining the Swedish word “plocka”, to pick with “jogga”, to jog.


The Clean Seas campaign is keen to help collaborate with any sport looking to make a difference on plastic pollution. Do get in touch by emailing CleanSeas@un.org