The Australian Open is under fire for being awash with plastic while at the same time touting its environmental credentials, writes Editor at Large Louise Evans
Duplicitous green credentials have been exposed by two-time champion Victoria Azarenka at the Australian Open tennis which is handing out thousands of single-use plastic cups at the Aperol Terrazza Bar and 600,000 mini plastic tubes of sunscreen across Melbourne Park.
After her first round victory Azarenka, 34 from Belarus, took issue with the Australian Open’s environmental sustainability and pledge to reduce plastic bottle waste when Melbourne Park was awash with single-use plastic including sushi containers, 10ml Bondi Sands sunscreen tubes and plastic cups.
Azarenka, who is the highest-profile member on the WTA Player Council, said the Australian Open was guilty of “smoke and mirrors”.
“We have water bottles that are recyclable, but then we have plastic everywhere around. What are we actually doing?” Azarenka said after her first-round win on Tuesday.
“It’s like one step we’re trying to take to absolutely sustainability and et cetera, but you’re selling plastic all over the stadium.
“I want to make sure that when we do something, that is important. But it looks like – what’s that sentence – smoke and mirrors? I don’t like that. If we are going to do something important and try to be sustainable, okay, let’s actually do that.”
Australian skin protection company Bondi Sands said it had partnered with the Australian Open to hand out “over 600,000 free samples” of 10ml SPF 50 sunscreen tubes during the tournament at over 40 water misting stations and sunscreen hut stations scattered around Melbourne Park.
Given the high heat experienced in the first few days of the Open, handing out free sunscreen is commendable in the fight against skin cancer. But the delivery method is the problem. Covid-wary spectators are naturally reluctant to use the large multi-use sunscreen pump bottles on offer, preferring to take away a small 10ml tube instead they can use in their own space.
But hundreds of thousands of 10ml tubes will not help the Australian Open’s commitment to reducing its landfill after partnering with Australian enviro-tech company Samsara Eco two years ago to recycle thousands of plastic bottles used throughout the event.
Samsara Eco was founded in 2019 through a partnership between Main Sequence, the CSIRO venture capital arm, Woolworths and the Australian National University to commercialise ANU technology that uses enzymes to break down and reuse plastic.
Tennis Australia said its Samsara investment was part of the Australian Open’s growing focus of sustainability which included: tracking and reducing greenhouse gas emissions, supplying reusable plates and bowls, reducing landfill, eliminating plastic lids from AO tennis ball tubes and using 20 Kia EV fleet cars.
Louise Evans is an award-winning journalist who has worked around Australia and the world as a reporter, foreign correspondent, editor and media executive for media platforms including The Sydney Morning Herald (eight years), The Australian (11 years) and Australian Associated Press (six years in London, Beijing and Sydney).
A women sports’ pioneer, Louise was the first female sports journalist employed by The Sydney Morning Herald and the first female sports editor at The Australian. Louise went on to work at six Olympic Games, six Commonwealth Games and numerous world sporting championships and grand slam tennis events.
Louise is the Founding Editor of AAP FactCheck, the Creator of #WISPAA – Women in Sport Photo Action Awards and national touring Exhibition and the author and producer of the Passage to Pusan book, documentary and exhibition.
In 2019 she was awarded the Order of Australia Medal (OAM) Queen’s Honour for services to the media and sport and named an Australian Financial Review Top 100 Woman of Influence for services to the arts, culture and sport.
In 2020 she won a NSW Volunteer of the Year Award plus the NSW Government Community Service Award for her women-in-sport advocacy work.