Since 1877, when the first Gentlemen’s Championship took place at Wimbledon, the annual tennis event has been characterized by manicured grass courts, pristine tennis whites and a sense of tradition.

But this year has brought a surprising addition to Centre Court at the All England Croquet and Lawn Tennis Club. Star players including Angelique Kerber and Dominic Thiem will be wearing gear made from plastic waste as they serve, volley and smash their way through the tournament.

Designed by Stella McCartney, the eco-friendly whites use materials discarded on beaches and upcycled into yarn, combined with fibres from recycled garments. Items in the collection are dyed using a process that reduces water consumption by 10 litres per garment.

Circular economy

What is a circular economy?

The global population is expected to reach close to 9 billion people by 2030 – inclusive of 3 billion new middle-class consumers.This places unprecedented pressure on natural resources to meet future consumer demand.

A circular economy is an industrial system that is restorative or regenerative by intention and design. It replaces the end-of-life concept with restoration, shifts towards the use of renewable energy, eliminates the use of toxic chemicals and aims for the elimination of waste through the superior design of materials, products, systems and business models.

Nothing that is made in a circular economy becomes waste, moving away from our current linear ‘take-make-dispose’ economy. The circular economy’s potential for innovation, job creation and economic development is huge: estimates indicate a trillion-dollar opportunity.

The World Economic Forum has collaborated with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation for a number of years to accelerate the Circular Economy transition through Project MainStream - a CEO-led initiative that helps to scale business driven circular economy innovations.

Join our project, part of the World Economic Forum’s Shaping the Future of Environment and Natural Resource Security System Initiative, by contacting us to become a member or partner.

And it’s not just tennis whites that are turning green. The tournament, which got underway on June 24, has introduced several other environmentally friendly initiatives to boost its eco credentials.

Fast serves

Plastic straws were banned from the event in 2018 - and this year Wimbledon has introduced its first 100% recycled and recyclable water bottle. And free water refill points are available to cut down on single-use bottles.

Additional staff will be dispersed around the site to help fans recycle containers from the tournament's food and drink, which includes more than 160,000 portions of strawberries and cream, and nearly twice as many glasses of Pimm’s, each year.

Image: Statista

Back on there court, heavy-hitters who break a string will no longer receive their restrung rackets in plastic wrapping, a move which will save an estimated 4,500 plastic bags throughout the two-week tournament.

Turning the plastics tide

In the move to clean up, or green up, Wimbledon is not an isolated case. Several other major sporting bodies and events are also championing environmental concerns.

The International Olympic Committee is working towards reducing single-use plastics from its events, and has pledged support for the UN Clean Seas campaign. That initiative has also been backed by bodies like World Sailing, World Rugby, the International Association of Athletics Federations and National Olympic Committees around the world. The Clean Seas movement aims to increase global awareness of marine litter and find ways to address this issue.

Plastic items that find their way into the ocean can take hundreds of years to bio-degrade.

Around 13 million tonnes of plastics leak into our oceans every year, according to a 2018 UN report. Action by the governing bodies of world sporting events can make a sizeable impact on sport’s contribution to the problem.

London’s Kia Oval cricket ground has pledged to be completely plastic-free by 2020. The venue has banned plastic straws, introduced eco-friendly alternatives to plastic beer cups, and has phased out plastic bags in its shop.

In the US, Major League Soccer clubs celebrated Earth Day by playing in gear made from plastic waste, preempting the Wimbledon experiment.

The volume of plastic reused to create sports clothing is a drop in the ocean compared to the tonnes discarded daily. But moves by major sports stars to wear recycled and upcycled designs at major sporting arenas helps raise awareness of this global issue - and the need for urgent action.