Welcome to Wimbledon 2019: Vegan strawberries and cream, 'Eco-champions' and old balls please

Claire Cohen
The greenest thing at SW19 is no longer the grass... - © Eddie Mulholland

The greenest thing at Wimbledon is usually the grass on Centre Court. But proceedings this year in SW19 have taken on a distinctly eco-friendly hue.

While the organisers have been selling used tennis balls on the grounds for years (I still have some from the 90s somewhere), there have been growing concerns over the tournament’s environmental footprint in recent years, with British players Johanna Konta and Kyle Edmund publicly questioning the amount of single use plastic. 

The All England Lawn Tennis Club (AELTC) say that no waste from last year’s championships went to landfill, and that anything non-recyclable was used to produce electricity. But this year’s tournament is set to be the most sustainable, ethical and gender-neutral yet.

From the strawberries and cream to the umpires, welcome to Wimbledon 2.0…

Wimbledon has been selling used balls for years... but in 2019 has gone green  Credit: Paul Grover 

Strawberries and cream

SW19’s favourite fruits are picked fresh in Kent at 5.30am every morning before the tournament throws open its gates to the hungry public, who consume 58,000kg of them every year - along with 7,000 litres of cream. And because nothing delicious comes without a moral conscience in these greener times, this year there is vegan cream, ice-cream and sorbet on offer with your berries - a move that animal welfare group Peta has welcomed, calling it a “animal cruelty free treat”. Yummy. 

And don’t worry - any uneaten strawberries won’t go to waste. They are made into jam and sold in the Wimbledon shop. In recyclable glass jars, presumably.

Score: 15-0

Pick up the pieces 

Of course, it could be argued that Wimbledon spearheaded the recycling boom, so clean-up conscious were its resident litter pickers the Wombles.

In that tradition, the tournament organisers have hired new 10 “eco-champions” to roam the grounds and help the public dispose of their plastic and packaging in the right way, using the new two-stream bin system. 

No sign of Uncle Bulgaria yet though. 

Score: 30-0

There is a new two-stream litter and recycling system in place Credit: GLYN KIRK /AFP

Calling time on plastic

Forget rain delays, tantrum-throwing players and mobile phones ringing during vital points - this year, plastic is enemy number one at Wimbledon. 

Evian, the official water supplier, is piloting a scheme using bottles made from 100 per cent recycled and recyclable plastic over the fortnight - the first time it has done so on such a vast scale (last year’s were only made from 25 per cent recycled materials - tsk). 

Of course, where there’s a will there’s a marketing opportunity: each of the 420,000 75cl bottles features the words “I recycle” where the Evian logo would usually sit, meaning that thirsty players are turned into recycling ambassadors with every sip - although arguably, it would be far more powerful if they brought their own reusable bottles, as the spectators are being encouraged to. There are water fountains around the ground and plastic straws were phased out last year. 

Other Wimbledon suppliers have been trumpeting their own green efforts on social media: there is recyclable cutlery, and Pimms have pointed out that all their cups are made from recycled plastic (though you still have to pay £8.50 for the privilege).

Score: 40-0

Evian is trialling 100% recycled bottles Credit: SPORTSPHOTO LTD 

Level pegging

In 2007, Wimbledon was the last of the Grand Slams to award women equal pay. Since then there have been concerns that it has dropped the ball even further when it comes to gender equality. For years, the Williams sisters were vocal about the uneven split between men’s and women’s matches played on the show courts, complaining that they were often relegated to smaller outside ones. In 2018, we finally had the proof: novelist and tennis fan Mark Leyland found that from 1993 to 2017 more men’s than women’s matches were put on Centre and No 1, with an average of 61 percent men and 39 per cent women. 

In an amazing coincidence, there has been a noticeable swing in favour of female players this year - on Tuesday, there were more women’s matches scheduled on the show courts than men’s. 

In addition, the AELTC has dropped another controversial Wimbledon tradition: using ‘Miss’ ‘Ms’ and ‘Mrs’ when the chair umpires are calling the scores. The prefixes will still be used, but only in situations when ‘Mr’ would also be applicable, such as handing out code violations. Though, oddly, female players will still have their “marriage history” - husband’s name, wedding date and location - recorded in the annual Wimbledon Compendium. 

Score: 40-15

For years, Serena Williams called for quality on the show courts Credit: GLYN KIRK /AFP

Dress code

In these days of 120mph serves, many players seems to go through rackets almost as often as they call for new balls. The sight of a freshly strung one being removed from its plastic bag has almost become a courtside tradition - but no longer. As part of its sustainability efforts, the AELTC has ditched the practice of putting the refurbished rackets in plastic, which will save 4,500 bags over the two weeks. 

Wimbledon’s competitors are also proving to be an eco-conscious lot. Stella McCartney has designed a kit for Adidas, which has been worn by players including Caroline Wozniacki, Garbiñe Muguruza, Angelique Kerber, Alexander Zverev, Dominic Thiem and Stefanos Tsitsipas. The material is partly made out of plastic waste intercepted on beaches and coastlines before it can reach the sea, which is then turned into yarn. Which probably means it will last longer than most player’s Wimbledon runs... especially considering everyone on that list is already out.

Final score: Game, set, recycle!