Paper drinks bottles -- best of both worlds? The Papier Marche concept...
The hot weather for the 2018 London Marathon recently opened up the age-old debate
between supplying water for running races in plastic bottles, versus paper cups.
Particularly with the recent focus on plastic pollution wonderfully raised by David Attenborough.
But could there be a third way -- the paper bottle? Here's a sketch, with more
thinking below. Someone, please make these!
Here are some pros and cons of traditional bottled mineral water for races, versus
open paper cups. Compostable cups were tried at one or two drinks stations in London
this year, with plastic bottles at the other 24 or so stations. In cold conditions it
doesn't matter much, but in the heat this year I used every drop of every bottle at every
station, mainly for cooling, really depending on it. Cups or bottles is a serious consideration
when deciding whether to enter a race at all...
- I run a marathon at about 10 mph/16 kph. Ever tried grabbing an open cup
at that speed without spilling any? Known techniques are pinching the top
or covering it with your other hand, but it's usually pretty disastrous.
I can end up with almost nothing. If I slow by 5 sec at each of 25 drinks
stations in a hot marathon, that's over two minutes lost -- enough to turn
a PB into a poor outing. So pausing is not an option.
- Bottles just hold more. Getting a reliable 330 or 500ml from a bottle is
way better than getting 150 ml (if you're lucky) from a cup.
- You can run with a bottle for a while, sipping some water, and then squirt
the rest over your hair and vest for cooling if it's hot. With a cup you get
one big gulp or two, which can go down the wrong way, and generally have to
choose that or using it to wet your hair a little. And you don't
get enough to really drench yourself.
- But bottles can be dangerous. I'm lucky enough to be nearer the front of
race fields, with clear roads. But if bottles accumulate, there is a distinct
danger of rolling an ankle and crashing out with an injury if you step on one.
- A big race like London has an industrial clear-up team, so the sea of discarded
bottles will nearly all be recycled. But a few will get lost awkwardly under
a hedge or in a drain, causing some litter. And in small races, some (bad)
runners will toss bottles and other litter where they just won't be collected.
- Compostable paper cups squash flat, posing much less hazard for following runners,
and those that aren't collected will at least degrade benignly after a while.
- The energy cost of manufacturing and transporting plastic bottles of water from
afar is obviously a lot greater than filling empty cups locally from a camping
container or hosepipe.
- It is easy to run out of bottled water, or end up with a huge excess. Using cups,
you can stop filling them when you start running out of athletes, and keep the
unused ones for next time.
Enter the compostable paper bottle/flask...
So my idea is simple enough -- combine the best of both worlds by having a fillable
bottle made of thick compostable paper or card. After all, as kids we made water bombs
out of normal sheets of paper folded into a cube; the thing only has to hold water for
a few minutes. Here are my thoughts:
- The bottle has to start in a folded flat shape so you can pack lots into a box
for distribution. Imagine a squashed juice container. Something like that.
- It has to open out into a rough botle shape when filled, and even if it's a bit
squidgy, support itself upright on a table. That way one volunteer can be filling
them while another is handing them out to runners.
- For filling, you could use a pointy nozzle on your water source, but otherwise let's
include a thin paper funnel shape as part of the bottle to make it easy. Once filled,
that funnel can be twisted off and discarded (or twisted up and left for the runner
to tear off, to make a rough seal).
- The neck should be fairly long, so the runner can grab the top part without squeezing
too much water out as they capture it.
- It only has to hold water for a few minutes while it sits on a table. So no need
for durable but polluting plastic liners or anything like that.
- You can have a big excess of the things at a drinks station and take home the ones
you don't need for next time, just like cups.
- They should take few resources to make and are compact and light to transport, as the
actual water is added locally at the last minute.
I wanted to call this concept the "papier marché" as a pun on papier-mâché, but Google
Translate tells me that means "paper market". But "papier marche" is paper works
or maybe paper walks. Just the (paper) ticket!
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