Football stadiums and large scale events generate absurd high levels of plastic waste. Single-use cups, merchandise wrappers, and food packaging equate to millions of pieces of individual plastic waste every season. Around 80% of rubbish in the ocean is plastic, says the European Commission.

The new campaign with the beer maker is “a positive and engaging initiative that will hopefully resonate with our fans and raise further awareness of the need to reduce waste and pollution across our neighbourhoods, cities, oceans and planet,” explained Pete Bradshaw, director of sustainability at Manchester City.

But the push to get rid of single-use plastics in football is not new. Various initiatives and surveys found in 2019 that fans were keen to up the environmental credentials of their clubs.

“Fans want football clubs to take action on plastic. We’re encouraged that a number of clubs have already introduced measures on this issue – but need every Premier and Football League club do what it can to get rid of unnecessary single-use plastic,” said Julian Kirby, Friends of the Earth campaigner, in 2019.

But as the pandemic halted play in stadiums, ecological sustainability pushes were somewhat relegated.

Clubs like Manchester City continue to make progress: one million plastic cups and about 500,000 plastic bottles were saved during each Premier League club season. “Manchester City has developed an active agenda for sustainability,” noted Bradshaw.

Beer maker Heineken had commissioned a series of sculptures made of reclaimed single-use plastics and placed them in Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur’s stands.

“Together with forward-thinking partners like Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur, we hope to inspire others by demonstrating the benefit small changes can have on our planet’s future,” explained James Crampton, corporate affairs director for Heineken UK.

The two statues built by sculptor Sarah Turner consist of 200 bottle caps, 75 plastic bottles, 20 plastic bags, and two tents, amongst plastic items.

Heineken has also ceased supplying all single-use plastic bottles to its pub, bar, stadiums and event venue customers, reported The Drum.

The clubs were “doing well” on their sustainability drive, tweeted football sustainability organisation Football for Future.

The removal of single-use plastic from clubs and stadiums and food being served in recyclable packaging with wooden cutlery found particular approval.

EU regulation across the channel has it done

For EU environmental campaigners keen on more sustainable football, the last large legal push of the European Commission under Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker was a welcome boost to their cause.

In a rapid-fire process in 2018, the Commission had pushed for an EU-wide ban on single-use plastics.

If “one year you can bring your fish home in a plastic bag, and the next year you are bringing that bag home in a fish, we have to work hard and work fast,” said then Environment Commissioner Karmenu Vella in 2018, to explain the rapid pace the Commission had put forward.

The EU’s Single Use Plastic Directive came into effect in July 2021.

“The European Union’s rules are a landmark achievement in addressing marine litter. They also stimulate sustainable business models and bring us closer to a circular economy where reuse precedes single-use,” explained Commission Vice-President and Green Deal Chief Frans Timmermans.

He added, “this is what the European Green Deal is all about – protecting and restoring our natural environment while stimulating businesses to innovate.”

[Edited by Alice Taylor]