Into The Waste Zone

The pro peloton’s existence is predicated on imitation. You can buy the same bike as the world champion, you can have the same clothing as the yellow jersey. “What the pros ride” is the sporting equivalent of “as seen on TV”.

There’s one aspect nobody should be copying: the practice of slinging used bottles, wrappers and other waste into the countryside. Time after time riders hurl their empty food packets away. This might change in 2015.

New for 2015 is a UCI rule demanding “waste zones”, an amendment to an existing rule. The extra wording is in bold:

2.3.026 In other events or stages the organisers may also provide food and drink in areas set aside for that purpose. The feeding zones will be signposted. They shall be of sufficient length, to allow supply operations to proceed smoothly. Each feeding zone should be accompanied by a zone for waste situated just before and just after the feeding zone where riders can get rid of their waste.

Organisers should also have a waste zone of sufficient length situated before the final 20 kilometres of each race or stage where riders have the opportunity to get rid of their waste.

We’ve seen this before in races, the image at the top is from the 2014 Giro. As far as I can tell the practice started in pro racing in March 2011 when ASO trialled a “collection zone” in Paris-Nice. This proved useful and two years later the scheme spread to other races including Tirreno-Adriatico. With RCS and ASO onboard a lot of major races are covered but now for 2015 it’s a requirement for every race that has feed zones, typically races longer than 150km.

Of course having a 50 metre long zone is one thing, using it is another. Some cities have trash cans but inhabitants still drop litter while others are spotless. It’s cultural. A rider might throw something on the ground because they’re in a race and it’s the “done thing”. But it shouldn’t be. Putting a wrapper back in a pocket seems so obvious, there’s no penalty other than sticky fingers and if you’re a pro, no worries because someone will wash your bartape and gloves in a few hours’ time. Just as a rider won’t won’t hurl food scraps off their balcony in Monaco, there’s no reason to drop an empty gel sachet on the road.

So how to change the culture? Well the UCI’s adding another new rule for 2015:

2.2.024 If waste zones are established by the organiser, the rider must safely and exclusively deposit their waste on the sides of the road in this area

That’s stipulating the only place to drop waste is in these zones. That’s better. However the penalty for breaking the rule is a measly UCI cash fine, maybe 50 Swiss Francs (€40) if caught. Perhaps fans should take part and if a rider is spotted littering, call them and the team out? Some have gone further. In 2010 Chris Froome was among several cyclists named by a Belgian environmental group for prosecution after being spotted littering during the Flèche Wallonne race. Nothing came of it but it’s a reminder that just because there’s a race on doesn’t mean riders can ignore local laws and customs.

Other solutions can include biodegradable packaging. Some teams do use biodegradable water bottles but at best these are going to take months to rot. Some team jerseys, plus the Le Coq Sportif leaders jerseys in the Tour and other ASO races, have extra pockets to put waste in.

Some races have employed waste zones, now they’re a requirement for 2015. But it’s one thing to provide these areas, another to ensure they’re used correctly. The stick of UCI fines doesn’t look very threatening, the fines are too light. Maybe instead it’s up to fans to watch what happens during a race and maybe for more education on younger riders?

Finally if you’ve been to a race and stood by the road, you might have choked on the fumes from the race convoy. A few plastic wrappers might not seem like much when set against the total pollution of a race. But improvement has to start somewhere and this is an easy fix if minds can be changed.

72 thoughts on “Into The Waste Zone”

    • True, but the second addition where “the rider must safely and exclusively deposit their waste on the sides” if these zones exist is the unconditional part. How strictly this gets enforced remains to be seen.

  1. I get the point regarding wrappers etc., but bidons is a different story. I’d doubt whether a single bottle thrown by a rider wouldn’t get picked up by the fans…..

    Having them chuck them in a few spots along the way would remove one of the great things about watching the race live!

  2. I got Linus Gerdermann’s discarded bidon at the Tour of Britain a few years back (I think it was his anywa). The lid cracked on impact, but an email and picture to Elite in Italy, and they sent me a replacement Leopard Trek coloured lid in the post, free of charge.

    It now takes pride of place in the wine rack next to some dodgy bottles of red.

    • As an aside it’s worth visiting a feedzone and the section of course after it to see people go wild for the bottles. Adults sprinting for foodbags, diving into ditches to get a €2 plastic bottle etc.

    • I pick them up and often give them to the younger fans who really appreciate them.

      Riders need to be made aware the designated waste zone as well as to discard their unwanteds near spectators. These steps will never eliminate discards, esp during a crucial part of the race, but it will help reduce garbage.

      Spectators need to do their share and pick up all waste we see as it may have been left earlier.

  3. I am pretty sure I read somewhere ( maybe on inrng!) that one of the French teams had a jersey designed with a waste pocket, underneath the main back pockets and accessable from the side, to avoid confusion. Bretagne seche perhaps. Ive never seen it available to the public. I,ve always tucked the empty gel packets under the leg of my shorts to avoid gooing up the rest of the stuff in my jersey.

  4. I don’t get too worked up about the pros tossing stuff, though the mylar and similar packages are certainly much more nasty than the paper and aluminum foil of the good ol’ days. Bottles usually get snapped up by fans in most cases. But I DO understand the issue when it comes to influencing Joe and Jill Crankarm when they’re emulating the pros while participating in a Gran Fondo, etc. Even worse is when Jill or Joe tosses this crap onto the roadside on a regular basis. I see tons of this junk along the routes we follow during our Legendary Climbs itinerary. Cyclists used to be rather environmentally conscious but today this does not seem to be so much the case.
    Of course the bigger question is why folks think they need to use these super-expensive products when they’re just out for a ride in the first place? I can understand their use in RACES, but the rest of the time I find them rather silly. How did Fausto Coppi ever ride a bike without engineered food in mylar wrapping? The folks who make these products should sell them in biodegradable packaging…maybe the UCI could prod them along with this?

    • There’s a UCI sponsored program called EcoCyclo (I’m a ‘patroller’) which attempts to attack precisely the problem of waste and course design in cyclosportives. It started as a French program and has now been rolled out to the UCI World Cycling Tour events as well. It’s one thing to have a peloton of 200 pro cyclists throwing waste everywhere, imagine the damage that 10,000 cyclosportive riders can do to an environment! It’s important to remember that we are guests along the rodes of the sportives that we ride and should treat their surroundings with the utmost respect. You wouldn’t throw a wrapper down in your own yard or field (much less a pristine alpine pass), why throw it in someone else’s? We needs to respect our surroundings so that we can continue to enjoy them for our riding pleasure in organised events.

      • Pro races and cyclosportives alike generate a lot of waste. I think the UCI’s initiative in pro races has come from experiments in cyclosportives. “Chapeau” to Patrick François’s work in this area.

  5. Penalties for littering are common in triathlon, at least in the age-group ranks anyway, not sure how rigorously that would be enforced for the pro’s.

    As has been mentioned, the real environmental impact comes from Joe Public getting into the habit of dropping gel/bar wrappers all over the mountains despite there often being giant dumpster sized bins on the popular climbs in the Alps/Pyrenees.

    If some of the popular Gran Fondos introduced penalties similar to triathlon (e.g. 1st offence +4 min penalty, 2nd offence +4 min penalty, 3rd offence disqualification) it might breed a better attitude amongst cyclists.

  6. Its infuriating watching guys do this in open races, have had a few words with some over the past year or two but when they are in the zone and thinking they are Tony Martin trucking along they fall on deaf ears.

    The best has to be 2 seperate guys from the host club flinging gel wrappers into the ditch at their open race this year…thats your own countryside dudes! Hilarious.

  7. Mulebar put their energy bars in bio degradable wrappers and are working on one for the gels. But that doesn’t stop me taking all wrappings home when out riding or racing. It pisses me off when i see riders throwing banana skins and using the bio-degradable tag to justify it. I have lost livestock to choking from trying to ingest the skins.Take it home for fecks sake! Mulebar are partnered with IAM this season.

  8. This is a typical over reaction by the UCI. The volume of bottles, wrappers and gel packs from a 190-rider World Tour peloton is minimal.

    Especially when compared to the volume of vehicle emissions, diesel fuel, Jet-A it takes to run 2 helicopters, 36 team cars, 15 VIP cars, 50 motorcycles, 10 Commissaire cars and 18 Team buses. This is the most environmentally insensitive sport on the planet. Seriously.

    So let’s penalize the riders again, for racing.

    • Good comment, RSM.

      I’ve been to the tour (from Australia) for 3 of the last 4 years. The thing that strikes me the most is the number of vehicles that are used to follow the race. I’ve often remarked to people when explaining the way it all works that it must be the least ‘green’ event on the planet!

      You missed the caravan & the media…. At least most of the following cars etc. are relatively new / modern and as such are cleaner than the average, but a lot of vehicles in the caravan are quad bikes with rubber ducks glued on top etc. really old and dirty vehicles (emissions wise).

      Probably at least 100 media vehicles/motos follow the stage each day.

      As RSM says, the number of vehicles following / preceding the tour really is staggering.

    • Good point. Don’t forget the dozens of enormous trucks that carry all the start/finish area stuff and the vans for the guys setting up the barriers/signage, etc…

      I was at stage 13 of the tour this year and was astounded to see the number of cars go past me up Chamrousse for media/vips/others that had one, maybe two occupants. I don’t get why they don’t mandate that unless you put 3+ people in a car, *and* can justify a separate car, you should just go in a bus with others… (or be forced to ride up the hill 🙂 ).

      I also rode up Chamrousse less than a week after the tour, and the mountain was spotless. I don’t know if they had clean up crews, or if the fans did it, but whatever the reason, it worked, which I was surprised about given the huge number of people on the roadside on the day!

      • They do have clean up crews for the Tour but it’s up to local towns to do this, some are better than others. Most of it’s about clearing up after the fans, dropped newspaper programmes and food waste.

        As for the cars, ASO says it’s teaching “eco driving”, ie driving smoothly and enforcing an 80km/h speedlimit. Helpful… but a tiny gesture.

          • It’s difficult. The sport’s travelling nature means many have to go from the start to finish. For example the suggestion of a bus from the start to finish to ferry the media is good… but the journalists still need a car to get to/from the race/their hotel every day so it might not work.

            Gerard Vroomen wrote a thought-provoking piece saying following cars should be ditched and riders have stronger bikes and carry any spares:

          • Hmmm

            Well, we’ve moved on from the days on riders carrying tubes around their torsos

            I’d love Vroomen to explain just how sponsors – so prized a commodity in our sport – would react to such additional risk and uncertainty thrown into the equation.

            Some people cry out that the sport needs to become more professional, and then come up with ideas that are anything but.

    • Raises an interesting question: which would have more environmental impact, banning the wanton discaring of waste, or removing 1 car from the pack following the peloton?

  9. Road racing is completely environmentally irresponsible for all of the reasons listed above. If there is ever a mandate for climate change, this sport is ax’d or will be altered completely. The amount of cars and pollution just for ‘sport’ is just insane.

    • Any sport with enough participation is environmetally irresponsible. Prosports are on another level. If we are going to cut sports events because of the environment, may i suggest cutting the winter olympics? Sochi was storing snow from 2012 so they have enough snow to use this year. This one cost 51 billion dollars, i doubt that all of the protour races make a worse impact than that in the 4 years between the winter olympics. Also, remember when vancouver was trucking in snow from the mountains 24/7 for a month? It was a parade of trucks.

    • I agree with Garuda, here. We would need some numbers to state something which makes sense, especially in terms of comparisons with other sports.
      To start with, road cycling generally doesn’t need to build huge infrastructures… whose *individual* cost in terms of resources (energy and emissions included) would often cover many years a Tour.
      Moreover, cynical it may be, a significant aspect of air pollution is a matter of concentration (yes, I know that probably the *most* significant aspect is nowadays global, that is total emission of greenhouse gasses, but this doesn’t mean that other aspects are irrelevant: in Europe half a million deaths a year are due to *local* air pollution). In that sense, every sport that concentrates tens of thousands of spectators in urban areas, often travelling by car, is way worst than cycling.
      Any given Sunday, in Italy, you’ve got various helicopters flying in different cities for public security reasons, because of the footbal matches. Presently, that’s by far more than the helicopters you’ve got flying for cycling’s sake.

      And I suspect that, maybe, even a comparison with other human activities in terms of “relative difference” wouldn’t end up hitting so hard against pro cycling. How many cars are we speaking of for the Tour (*the Tour*)? No idea. Hundreds?
      Well, I’ve got right here a Tenerife traffic intensity map. Hundreds of cars a day are the figures relative to the most remote rural roads of the island. Typically we’re speaking of thousands of cars a day (up to 25,000) along normal communication ways (between 50,000 and 115,000 a day in the highways). The impact of having the Tour de France riding around Tenerife *every single day of the year* would nearly always be reduced to single digit percentage variation. That for any given, specific road, whereas the global effect would be a “zero point zero something…” percentage. Or, better said, we could reduce traffic of a comparable amount to “abolish pro cycling” in a lot of ways which wouldn’t have the same cultural and economic negative collateral effects. Which doesn’t mean we, the *cycling world* shouldn’t try to *do better*, but any “mandate for climate change” should “axe” of a lot of other matters, before, at least if we’re going to follow some sort of priority based on effectiveness and impact.

  10. I was going to say how much better cyclocross is environmentally… then I thought of the thousands and thousands of single use plastic beer cups involved…

  11. This is good because it might have an influence on “weekend warriors” that throw their gels while racing local insignifiant amateur races.

    I have seen this so many times when these so called ‘racers’ litter single tracks while taking part in some little unknown amateur MTB races where it is suppose to be fun to race first and foremost.

    • Please be aware that electricity has to be converted from something, usually *gasp* fossil fuels such as coal, natural gas, diesel to the tune of 70 %. With another 15 % coming from nukes. And if the inefficiency of transmitting, conversion, storing, and reconversion of electricity to be used in propelling a car is compared to using oil, it’lll probably be an even match if i’m being generous. Imagine if your gas tank loses 10-20% of its contents every week just sitting there not being driven, that’s exactly what happens to electric car batteries as it is like any battery. So yeah, the oilers rule the world, and they’d still be ruling the world even if we all drove electric cars.

      • Which country are those numbers referred to? The whole world, maybe? Because in *developed* countries like Italy or Spain the picture is way different.
        (And I suspect that most of the countries that have got enough money will make a similar shift quite soon… China included. But this is just speculating, whereas my previous sentence was about present data).

        • In Europe, as a whole, fossil fuels in 2013 were responsible of 43,4% of electricity production. Nuke was about 26% (mainly because of France). Renewable energy production was at 30,3%.

          If we look at real consumption rather than production (most traditional plants can’t be just switched off, so go on producing energy when it’s not needed) figures are even more favourable to renewable energies.

          Besides, even if this is not the case for the subject we’re analysing now, note that traffic pollution problem are often related to concentration. Lots of cars in the same place – a big city – where lots of people live and breath. In that sense, electric cars would help a lot.

          I’m not saying I can’t see the problems you’re pointing to, but, at the same time, we can’t just go on thinking as if things weren’t changing, because they are, and, anyway, sticking to old perspectives (and data) is the best – or “worst”, in a sense – way to prevent change.

          • Exactly. And I think everybody involved -riders, fans at the road, locals -would appreciate less pollution. So there really is an opportunity to have cycling connected with good positive news for once. Irregardless of that, I talked this year with a few people in Hamburg who weren’t happy with the closed roads, the dirt, the costs etc. from the Cyclassics, so everything that can be done, should be done to reduce any pollution/damage/inconvenience, so that the locals who let us have our fun in their backyard tolerate this as long as possible. Many (mostly smaller) races really suffered because in the end they had no longer enough support in the community and could not get the needed assistence to close down roads, provide security etc.


            Of course it is for the whole world, earth is but a tiny elevator car crammed with people and if anyone farts, we all smell the consequences of someone’s poor dietary choices. But enough with the sweet talk, the world’s energy needs are rising disproportionately faster in the developing world than the developed world. In 10 years time, even if italy and spain goes 100% renewable on it sources of energy ( with apologies to physics majors everywhere), theirs will be dwarfed by the electricity produced by Africa, China, india, south america, and everwhere else using fossils. And don’t count on Murikah getting its shit together and weaning itself off of the shiny black milk of the land.

            You also can’t turn on renewables. Sun, wind, water depth in a hydro are tied to the whims of nature.

            Yes, electric cars will shift the production of pollution to areas where it will have less impact on fewer people.

            Historically, the best way to move people to change is profit, and the technology on renewables does not mount a challenge to the profit made on fossils. That’s where my pragmatism sounds cynical to most of my fellow earthlings. Ive been promised super high capacity, tough, light, and cheap batteries since grade school, but where are we on the cheap part? We will all turn to renewable for the majority of our power eventually, just not soon, and not without a lot of figurative and literal blood.

            You made me chuckle on the *developed*. Nice burn on the italians and the spanish.

          • The global perspective is important, but it’s unsuitable for the specific matter.
            The question is: would the *introduction* of electric cars bring environmental advantages? The present answer is “yes”, since – if it started, say, in Europe – the electricity which would replace oil-based fuel would be produced along with the European mix, not the worldwide one (even more so if we are speaking of big cycling races, sorry Mr. Rumpf and GCP).
            And, anyway, it would be a conversion from an oil dominated sector (oil is relevant as a primary source, not as much in electricity production) to a more balanced energetic mix: we can’t forget, for example, that gas is fossil, not renewable and a source of CO2 emissions, but – generally speaking – it isn’t “as bad” as oil or coal from many different points of view. Moreover, a multi-source and more balanced mix is an objective as such.
            We may also observe that, as I’ll restate below, some European countries have the potential to produce even more energy from renewable sources with a very reduced marginal investment, but decided not to do so because of private interest of the governing party and so on (and that’s why, among other reasons, they deserve that *developed*). That is, the shift to electric transportation wouldn’t force the reintroduction of fossil sources to comply with an increased electricity demand, if anything it would favour the rise in the mix of the more flexible renewable sources.

            That said, I’ll go back to the big picture, too, and add a couple of footnotes 😉 .
            It’s funny that many people say they are “pragmatic” when they discuss the energetic problem, but they are the same people who would argue that renewable sources wouldn’t ever cover a significant percentage of the electricity production in Europe, while that’s exactly what happened in a few years time. That is, facts are against them.
            We should also observe that, surprise surprise!, the renewable sources in the present auction-based European energy system are often more rentable than fossil sources thanks to their cost structure (especially if we consider that coal is living its peculiar renaissance due to a speculative conjuncture and geopolitical issues, not because it’s *really* effective).
            In a very few years time, Spain has gone from a system which had to invest public money to encourage renewable sources with economic incentives, to a system which has to spend a lot of State incentives to keep traditional power plants in the market and to penalise renewable sources. Italy is following at a close distance (another reason to deserve that *developed*).
            Profit is not the mathematical result of given conditions. It’s the consequence of a series of processes, more than everything cost distribution. The big fossile companies are profitable because they are allowed to externalize the economic consequences of their model. Thus, politics really decide what is profitable and what is not.
            The speed and the conditions of the energetic change we’ll be living, depend mostly on politically driven choices, and that’s why ideology (in a wide sense) could have the last word on the subject, not nature nor “the market”.

            Obviously, 100% renewable is not a realistic human-scale objective. It could even be senseless. The roadmap goes through a gradual shift in production but a big change in energy consumption (better said, waste) in the First World countries, while pushing for the shortest possible transition elsewhere: China could be a breakthrough country, but better not to start to discuss if and why… we’ve gone a long way OT 🙂

          • And… I know this is not very polite on my part, but I’d note that the link you posted says that in 2012 on a worldwide scale the distribution was 67 fossil sources + 11 nuke, which may look similar but is quite different from 70 + 15 as you said. Especially because, when you focus on “what remains”, you may discover that the renewable sources cover more than a 20% of overall electricity production, and not hardly a 15%…
            It’s not about the numbers, obviously.
            It’s about the fact that the so-called “pragmatism” is sometime just a slowly adapting mindshape. The “pragmatic” attitude is based on previous experience and established conventions, so it tends to affect perception and memory, drawing a scenario that is linked to old data rather than to the future. It’s very effective in a stable context, not in a changing one. This isn’t personal at all (no need to say), I can often be very “pragmatic” myself, and “pragmatism” is a very good antidote to the illusion of short-term radical change. But, just as any mental (self-)contidioning, it should be used with care.

          • Ofcourse profit is powered by politics, how else could the NFL remain a non-profit organization. The problem is that the status quo is very profitable for the those with the money and the political clout to keep it profitable. I’d like to point out two examples: corn ethanol as transportation fuel was poured down the throats of consumers because of the very powerful corngrowers, but even politics that powerful was not strong enough to sustain a less than useless product. Hybrid vehicles sales were pushed on consumers as well through massive rebates (thanks to the manufacturers being in bed with the government ) but when the rebates dried up the sales have been faltering.
            The numbers I initially quoted were from a presentation during a seminar on future areas of conflict because of the fight for energy sources. I cannot get those sources from the presenter. As it is, the numbers I did get are close enough for the purpose. The numbers will differ anyway if you want to add up total production capacity, versus production, and even consumption.
            The energy problem is indeed complicated, at this point even cold fusion can’t make it simpler. Glaringly though, the energy solution is wonderfully even more complicated, a mixed source will be a welcome development.

    • That’s interesting. And what about motor-paced training? Scooter motorcycles used by pro-trainers are horrible, I always wondered how could a pro dig deep while breathing behind those. Someone (inrng?) observed somewhere that asthma is starting to be a professional illness between riders (and maybe it’s not just to get hold of your proper certificate…).

      • Can we stop trying to pitch everything as a ‘cycling’ or cyclists’ problem

        Athletes across EVERY sport contain some asthma sufferers (I’ll cite Paula Radcliffe and Paul Scholes, as just two examples). Hardly surprising when you consider that in the UK alone, there are an estimated 5.4m asthma sufferers – that’s almost 1:10 of the population. Add to that exercise-induced asthma, and you have a condition that affects a hell of a lot of people.

  12. Waste zones were introduced into the Tour of Britain this year. I was sceptical about how well used they would be but I was very pleased to see almost every rider taking the opportunity to ‘dump the empties’ in the zone.

    If you give the riders the facility they will use it.

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