Cleaning up cycling (not doping, litter)

Cycling as an elite sport has often has little to do with ecology. Convoys of team cars, the consumerist message and the way riders dump used bottles and food wrappers don’t make things look very green at all.

But the sport is being used to promote cycling as transport, to tie bike racing with a message about the environment. For example the Tour de France visited London in 2007 and this was used to promote cycling in the British capital; the same happens when there were races in Mumbai. Similarly the races often head through pristine countryside and even national parks.

Now there are plans to make the sport itself a little bit greener. ASO is trying special “collection zones” where riders can throw away things knowing that it will be collected. Many teams today use biodegradable bottles but these take time to break down and besides, it’s a bad example to litter the countryside. The idea behind the zones used by ASO is to use identifiable areas where the waste can be collected.

There’s an air of a public relations stunt here. There’s no obligation on the riders, doing this gives ASO a splash of greenwash. But like all things, it has to start somewhere and it’s useful. Seeing riders dump things by the road is never great, especially as amateurs are often copying the pros; it’s not uncommon to see energy food wrappers beside the roads most popular with cyclists here.

I welcome this initiative and suspect we’ll see it used again in the Tour de France if not in many more races to come.

29 thoughts on “Cleaning up cycling (not doping, litter)”

  1. This is a good start – as are biodegradable bidons – but where are the biodegradable bar & gel wrappers? After all, they are the things most likely to be dropped, intentionally or not. The technology is out there, more energy-product companies should be using it!

  2. I’m for the “collection zones”.

    it can work for trash from gets, bars and other food. I’m tired to bring them to the finish in my jersey.

    for the bottles, a good and easier solution is to educate riders to throw them where there are some people watching the race, or at the worst, in towns area, where you know it will be cleaned. Bottles will be likely collected by people. Once you get used, it’s quite easy.

    I really feel when I see riders throwing bottles in the nature.

  3. I’m for a huge riduction of cars behind the peloton, or a sperimentation with eco cars, for ex. electric or hydrogen cars, shouldn’t be a good marketing project ? a great number of companies are involved in the sport not only as technical partners

  4. Well,

    First of all – in terms of trash, most riders either not racing do not need the energy gels. A simple bottle of energy drink can suffice until one can find a convenience store to refuel. Nothing better than someone doing their Sunday morning ride, popping an energy gel the minute they start breathing hard, not realizing the body’s ability to store glucose and the effort it takes to burn through that energy store.

    But, if looking pro is critical to one’s own riding, Hammer and other companies sell small gel bottles with water-bottle style spouts which can be used to carry the equivalent of 5 – 8 gels, eliminating the issue with these wrappers.

  5. Good to see it being adopted and honestly, is it rocket science? No. Just needs a quick decision, implementation and communication.

    I also agree with Melanie – the sports food companies should get their finger out. A really good selling point, although it shouldn’t be necessary.

    Litter is one of the most embarrassing things I find about living in the UK. It’s seems very few people care about their country and are too damn lazy to find a litter bin. I take great pleasure in picking up and handing back litter to peopl who I see have intentionally dropped it.

  6. The problem isn’t throwing stuff out during a race as much as the fact that they’re modeling that behavior for all the other cyclists on the planet. The domestiques could collect the wrappers and take them to the team cars with the next bottle run – and then little kids wouldn’t see their heroes pitching stuff on the side of the road, and think it was okay to do that. I have a whole row of discarded drinks bottles and a couple of musettes so I would like that to continue, but I can see how cleaning up all the wrappers and other stuff could get tedious in a hurry. It’s one thing to just drop your trash during a race, when there are people around who are likely to clean up after you, and something else entirely to do it during training rides or when you’re just out for pleasure.

  7. Jack –

    Yet how many cigarette butts do I see everywhere, all the time, as if they aren’t litter! And driving around my student town very early Sunday morning it looks like a bomb went off in the middle of a giant rubbish bin, nothing but kebab containers and chip wrappers and beer bottles strewn all over the roads and pavements until the nice sweepers come to clean them up.

    But I agree, cyclists should be part of the solution, not the problem. Just because you’re racing doens’t mean you can litter, and I don’t have a problem giving grief to anyone behaving like a pig, on the bike or off.

  8. It looked like one of the early season weeklong stage races (almost certainly TDU) had designated dump zones, and I know it’s been discussed before on VeloNews.

    Considering the existing issues with biodegradable food packaging, finding something that gels won’t stick to seems like a pipe dream for now.

    Race organizers already decide when is or is not an appropriate time to do much more innocuous things like feed or urinate. Adding litter would be more than fair, possibly with subtle markers every few km that can hopefully be tended to in-race, or possibly after on less windy days. It’s also a good opportunity to note where one can answer the call of nature. Regardless of what’s happening at the marker, the cameras will know to look away.

    • Can confirm that the TDU takes a very proactive approach to this sort of behind scenes management, I’ve participated in the TDU as a volunteer marshal a few times which has included a couple of minutes doing post-race cleanup. The TDU management are the most professional race organisers in the world and also very pragmatic in recognising that even if they don’t care about the environment, losing the public support for the race will sink it.

      The fear of being on the end of a stinging rebuke from Mike Turtur should be enough to get most of the guys into line.

  9. It’s simple really, sling the bottles where there are spectators to collect them, Wrappers back in the vest pockets, only banana skins to the roadside.

  10. I was at the Giro in 2007, standing on a small climb as the bunch was lead through by the T-Mobile team who were riding for the ‘Maglia Rosa’ which was being worn by Marco Pinotti.
    There was a group of us standing at a traffic island and Marco took a swig from his bidon and then waited before discarding it – he caught my eye and gently tossed it so it landed right at my feet.
    There was no litter left on the ground that day.
    Marco is not only an amazing athlete – he is also a gentleman and a credit to the sport.

  11. Is it really that much of an issue for the Pro peloton?

    In Australia, I find cyclists are really good about not dropping gel sachets, etc. Even road racing the overwhelming majority will have the sticky pocket and only banana skins get a good toss into the bush (even then some riders I know won’t toss them because they think it’s littering and refuse to accept decomposting argument). No one drops bidons obviously. Crits are pretty big here over summer and you don’t have the time or opportunity to bother with a gel, you’d be crashing into the barriers.

    Of course it is complete greenwashing when the bikes are made out of highly processed carbon fibre etc.

    In fact, I recall Cadel tried to start a no-litter movement and everyone collectively yawned because they already don’t.

  12. I’ve seen this in mountain bike races as well despite pleas from organisers and provision of bins at various places round the course. There’s nothing more disheartening than seeing litter dropped within sight of a bin.

    And wasn’t there something last year about a, I think, Belgian environmental organisation trying to get some of the riders charged for dropping litter? I’ve had a quick google and can’t find it though.

  13. The bio degradable bidons are sort of a joke. According to the TACX website, they take ca 2 years to break down. Assuming they do break down as advertised, they will still look like litter for a long period of time.

  14. Love the idea. It’s something that is done at amateur MTB marathons here already – both at feedzones and the whole course.

    The wrappers are definitely a problem, however any bidon deposited anywhere near fans doesn’t lie on the asphalt very long 😉

  15. @Struan, the Belgian environmental group was called “Coalition Nature” and they tried to bring charges against three riders (Gourgue, Froome and Kadri). You can find all the reports by googling “Coalition Nature gourgue froome kadri”.

    For the main topic, the ASO are often regarded as being nothing but big-business money-grubbers, but they have made real changes over the past few years, especially for the Etape(s). They have increased the number of rubbish zones, the bidons given away at 2010s event were biodegradeable (2009s were not) and they are giving more prominence to the FFCs “Ecocyclo” movement.

    An important factor for French cyclosportives is the “Natura2000” legislation that has recently come in: large parts of French countryside are now protected to the extent that any sporting events passing through have to fill in a large dossier, and they can be prevented from occurring if too much environmental damage/degradation could result. As many cyclosportives take place in picturesque mountian areas they could be directly impacted.

    The ASO may be taking pre-emptive action, but it has also been inspired by dialogue they’ve had with SudVelo/NeJetezPlus!, a Montpellier-based cycling club who also promote a strong environmental message (“Ne Jetez Plus!” translates as “No More Littering”): for the club and for the message

    As mentioned above, there’s also the FFC-backed Ecocyclo movement. At a large number of cyclosportives they will be a team of participants wearing green Ecocyclo kit. They are there to increase awareness that it’s a bad idea to chuck rubbish away. This is usually re-inforced by the “Patrollers” having the power to note the dossard numbers of anyone chucking stuff and have them disqualified (yes, French cyclosportives are regarded as competitive events with a final ranking, not like the stunted “not a race” UK versions). Ecocyclo also administer the “Green Dossard” that the most “Eco” pro gets to wear in certain races. Their website is

  16. Aren’t there anti-littering laws in most countries ?
    Perhaps if the police or local authorities were to enforce these and actually fine a few of these pro riders who dump their rubbish over the countryside…

    A few years ago, a rider in front of me in a UK sportive casually lobbed an empty bottle into a field at the side of the road – this is in a National Park, an area of outstanding scenic beauty, hence why the sportive was there in the first place !
    I saw him at the next foodstop and felt like confronting him, but one look at his face and I decided it would be a waste of time, he didn’t look the type who would listen.
    However I got his number and found his picture on the event photographer’s website, outed him on a cycling forum
    He read it and wasn’t pleased, but hopefully he’s learned…

  17. There is a French-based organisation that partners with Gran Fondo and Cycling Tour Operators in Europe to drive change and action in the organisation of events so that litter and refuse is managed to a ‘no footprints’ approach. Additionally, cycling ambassadors participate in the events to help spread the message and educate others to ‘do the right thing’. The EcoCyclo initiative is extending its presence internationally and has developed strong links. Take a look here (In french but can be translated in a Chrome Browser):

  18. I read somewhere last year that the saur/sojasun team had a new team jersey with a trash pocket , underneath the regular pockets which is accessible from the side of the jersey. I think Garneau has something similar in the pipe too. Why can’t they can’t just tuck the used wrappers under the leg band of their shorts, like us amateurs.

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