I have a haunting mental image from a WorldTour stage race that I attended years ago. Before the racing had even begun, each day the riders would return from their training ride in the sun, they’d park up their bikes with the mechanics and stroll off. And then the mechanics and soigneurs would quickly dispose of all the used bidons into the trash. Day in, day out, the waste would repeat.
Of course, on race day, the disposed-of bottles often become fan souvenirs in reward for a day waiting on the side of the road. Meanwhile, many smaller teams don’t have an endless supply of bottles and so the training bottles are washed for re-use (although Covid times has made this a rarer practice). Still, the vast majority of bottles are effectively single-use and either get added to landfills or perhaps spend a lonely lifetime in a ditch out the front of a random farm.
Cannondale estimates that 630,000 bottles are used in the professional peloton each year. Of that number, the American bike company reports that 34,000 belong to its sponsored EF Education – EasyPost men’s team and EF Education – TIBCO – SVB women’s team. That’s a whole lot of plastic waste across a relatively small number of humans.
Starting from the 2022 Giro d’Italia, Cannondale is looking to play a small role in minimising its environmental footprint by providing those two teams with plastic-free and wholly compostable racing bottles. Recent years have seen similar compostable bottles filter out as a niche option in the consumer bottled water market, and Cannondale is bringing the sugar and starch-derived material to cycling bottles. And yep, even the bite-valve is made of this compostable material.
The bottles are said to wholly decompose in as little as three months when put through an industrial compost system, or between 10-12 months if composted at home. They are said to meet the European Compostable Standard EU 13432 (formally BS EU 13432), and leave behind no nasty micro-plastics if left to wither away in the wild. By comparison, the biodegradable Jet bottle from Elite is made with biodegradable plastics, is more stubborn to decompose, and doesn’t meet the same compostable standards.
With what’s expected to be a short useable lifespan, the new Cannondale 100% Compostable Bottles are a team-issue only item and won’t be made available for consumer purchase. Instead, Cannondale hopes the new bottle tech will play a small role in helping to clean up pro cycling, and the company seeks to open the license to all WorldTour teams from next year (although I suspect some sponsor requirements will prevent widespread adoption).
Pro cycling has a long way to go before it can be deemed an environmentally clean sport, and a plastic-free bottle isn’t in itself the solution to that. Still, little developments like this are positive steps in the right direction.