New zero-waste concept for April's Income Eco Run

Philip Goh Channel NewsAsia 17 Jan 17;

SINGAPORE: In 2013, a “mystery winner” for the Standard Chartered Marathon Singapore was famously outed for taking shortcuts to the finishing line, all because he wanted the finisher medal and T-shirt.

But if Marcus Chew has his way, he would love to see more participants in mass running events reject these customary entitlements and simply enjoy the day out running, apart from learning to lessen their impact on the environment.

Mr Chew, 41, is the chief marketing officer of NTUC Income, which organises the Income Eco Run. Billed as the nation’s premier eco run since its inauguration in 2010, the event has introduced eco-friendly measures such as giving out post-run e-certificates, producing finisher medals from recycled metal, using biodiesel fuel for the generators, and encouraging runners to bring their own bottles so as to reduce the use of plastic bottles and paper cups. Runners are also encouraged to cycle to the race venue, with bike racks readily available.

This year, the race has set aside a tenth of its 10,000 slots for Zero Waste Runners. These are participants who opt out of receiving finisher medals and T-shirts and who will be given a water bottle to use at refilling stations during the run, rather than rely on bottled drinks and paper cups.

An avid runner himself, Mr Chew said he would have appreciated having an option like that for the many races he has taken part in, both in Singapore and overseas.

“I ended up collecting many finisher T-shirts which were left unopened and ended up being donated to the Salvation Army,” he said. “As for the medals, what am I going to do with them? These aren’t Olympic medals which I can keep.”

His views are echoed by school teacher Carmen Kee, who has signed up as a Zero Waste Runner for April’s Income Eco Run, where she will be tackling the half-marathon.

In her late 20s, Ms Kee considers herself a social runner and started tackling long-distance races so as to share an activity with her father and brother.

“For me, the sense of satisfaction comes from finishing the race itself and not really from the finisher’s medal, which I only use on the day itself to take a few photos,” said Ms Kee, who has completed two full marathons so far.

“At first, I thought I wanted to display the medals, but they all ended up in a bag at the corner of my cupboard not to be seen ever again.

“Recently, my family decided to adopt a minimalist lifestyle. And while clearing out clutter, I found I had two big bags of medals which I didn’t know what to do with. So I threw them away and felt very bad about it.”

The Income Eco Run will be Ms Kee’s first ever as a Zero Waste Runner, and she hopes to see this concept adopted by more race organisers locally.

“It is a good option for me, as someone who finds little meaning in the finisher medals and the T-shirts, and I think other runs should also have that option so that we can cut down on the waste,” she said. “In fact, I would probably be bringing my own water bottle too.”


Singapore is said to average more than one mass run a week - there were 76 events in 2014, 60 in 2013, and 55 in 2012 - from which one can expect plenty of waste to be generated including plastic bottles, paper cups, all manner of litter and debris.

A 2011 report on the New York City Marathon, one of the world’s premier races which attracts more than 45,000 participants and two million spectators annually, said race officials handed out nearly 240,000 free disposable plastic water bottles and 2.3 million paper cups. That means the New York City Department of Sanitation collects more than 100 tonnes of litter and debris, six tonnes of paper and nearly three tonnes of metal, glass and plastic after the race each year.

Last December’s Standard Chartered Marathon Singapore attracted a comparable 46,000 runners, although there are no figures for the amount of waste generated.

For this year's Income Eco Run, a "green" audit will be carried out to find out the carbon emissions generated by the use of transport by participants, volunteers and staff, as well as the use of direct electricity and fuel; waste and recyclables generated; water consumption; and usage of materials and responsible sourcing.

Results from the audit will be used to set environmental benchmarks for future races.

“Our run’s objective is to encourage responsible use of resources so that we and the generations ahead of us have a sustainable future,” said Mr Chew. “The ‘green’ audit will ensure that future runs can be even more eco-friendly, and we hope it will inspire and encourage others to do more to protect the environment and to generate less waste.”

Three months away from the race, about 800 of the 1,000 Zero Waste Runner slots have been taken up, and Mr Chew is confident that it will be fully subscribed before the Mar 31 closing date.

The zero-waste concept has struck a chord with runners of all ages, including 52-year-old Alan Cheong, an airline customer service supervisor. The father of three will take on the half-marathon, and while he hopes to do better than his previous race, he also hopes to do his part for a better environment for his children.

Asked if he would expect to pay a lower entry fee as a Zero Waste Runner since he will not be getting his race entitlements, Mr Cheong said: “I’m sure the organisers have worked out their cost of running the event, and I won’t quibble with them on this.

"Perhaps if more people are encouraged to sign up for this, we can really help to reduce wastage and the cost of holding this event overall. But this is certainly the way forward.”

Mr Chew acknowledges that there are those who appreciate these items, especially newcomers, but added: “We’re hopeful that one day, we will have a race which doesn’t give out medals or T-shirts but still attracts enough runners to advocate the message of environmental friendliness.

“We’re trying to create this group of people that will be the lobbyists, to get the other participants to cut down on waste as well. Ultimately, we want to emphasise the three ‘Rs’ of reduce, reuse and recycle, and hope they carry this into their daily lives and not just for running.”

- CNA/pg

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