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Tour de France condemned over ‘avalanche’ of 15 million bits of plastic thrown to crowd

‘Ecological emergency demands action,’ environment groups say

Harry Cockburn
Friday 26 July 2019 14:45 BST
The publicity caravan during the 2017 Tour de France
The publicity caravan during the 2017 Tour de France (Getty)

As well as almost 200 pro-cyclists in the Tour de France, there also comes the almighty corporate caravan which travels the 3,000km route.

Every day of the three-week long tour, a train of open-backed vehicles – stretching several kilometres in length – entertains the crowds and millions upon millions of freebies are thrown out to spectators ahead of the arrival of the cyclists themselves.

But environmental groups have condemned the avalanche of plastic the tradition generates.

The range of trinkets is broad, with companies flinging bottles of water, key rings, cycling hats, plastic rain ponchos, bumbags, wristbands, badges, toys, biscuits, sweets, and even samples of washing powder, most of which are made out of, or are wrapped in, plastic.

One company, Cochonous, gives away around seven tonnes of plastic-wrapped mini sausages and more than 100,000 sun hats over the period of the Tour.

Many advertisers are long-term members of the Tour caravan, and the event is a key marketing opportunity. Other advertisers include Bic pens, St Michel biscuits and tyre manufacturer Continental.

Organisers say that by the time this year’s event ends on the Champs-Elysees in Paris on Sunday, 15 million freebies will have been tossed to the crowds.

They say that a few years ago it was 18 million, but the environmentalists say the “Tour de Plastic” has to do more.

“The giving away of ‘goodies’ has to be totally rethought. The ecological emergency demands action,” French politician Francois-Michel Lambert told Reuters.

Mr Lambert is one of 30 legislators who, together with six charities including Zero Waste France and Surfrider Foundation Europe, have written an open letter to the Tour’s organisers calling for action.

Cochonou give away seven tonnes of sausage during the bike race (Getty)

Tour director Christian Prudhomme responded with a letter in the sports daily L’Equipe saying sponsors now had to pledge to reduce plastic, and items such as caps and t-shirts were being distributed without plastic wrapping.

Julian Kirby, plastics campaigner at Friends of the Earth, told The Independent: “Sport can have such a positive impact but it’s such a shame to see how much plastic tat is coming alongside big events such as le Tour.

“Organisers really must crack down on the pollution footprint that comes from plastic freebies.”

He also pointed out that petrochemicals company Ineos has become one of the newest sponsors of a cycling team in the Tour, and produces a vast amount of plastic.

Mr Kirby said: “It’s also time for the stranglehold of plastic manufacturers to end. You can’t ignore the fact that Ineos is emblazoned all over this year’s Tour as a sponsor of one of the biggest teams but at the same time a producer of huge amounts of plastic each year, and is only looking to increase production.”

Amelia Womack, deputy leader of the Green Party, who has this week visited Lords Cricket Ground to examine environmental measures it is putting in place, told The Independent: “Sporting organisers like the Tour de France need to seriously up their game on ensuring they don’t put further unnecessary plastic into our already choked world.

“There is huge public hunger for action – the people are pushing companies to act.

“But our focus should be on the big corporate polluters, rather than the sporting bodies such as the Tour organisers. The companies are the ones profiting from plastic products. Then we all pay – for the cleanup, and in the damaged nature of our world.

“The Green Party is calling for a ban on all unnecessary single-use plastics, which is nearly all of them on the high street (and on the cycle routes).

“Far too often focus is put on expecting individual consumers to take action, but they aren’t the problem – the producers who profit from the products are.”

Additional reporting by Reuters

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