Green group wants race participants to feel ‘shiok’ about binning waste properly

KELLY NG Today Online 15 Jun 18;

SINGAPORE — As mass sporting events increase in popularity here, they have also become a potent reminder of the amount of rubbish generated.

Regular participants report heaps of trash in the form of used drinking cups, plastic bottles and banana peels left in the wake of races such as the annual Standard Chartered Singapore Marathon, which has attracted an average of 50,000 runners in each of its last four editions.

Eager to improve the environmental footprint of such events, a non-profit group is taking a different tack to encourage participants to chuck their recyclables appropriately.

Instead of the usual messages reminding people to separate their waste, Green Nudge deployed brightly coloured boards at last month's Sundown Marathon that posed questions such as, "How are you feeling?" and "Will you return for Sundown Marathon next year?"

In response to the first question, for instance, participants could toss their plastic bottles and drink cans into two bins labelled "shiok" (the local slang for feeling terrific) and "tired".

Special yellow bins were set up to collect banana peels.

About 20 Green Nudge volunteers – also known as "trash directors" – stationed themselves around the bins to ensure runners did not dispose of items that would contaminate the waste.

The group collected about 900kg of recyclables, some of which were used for art installations. About 700kg of banana peels (from about 10,400 bananas) were sent to community gardens to be used as compost.

At the OSIM Sundown Marathon in May 2018, Green Nudge collected 700kg of banana peels which were sent to community gardens for use as compost. Photo: Heng Li Seng

Green Nudge founder Heng Li Seng said he wanted to explore a "new method" of encouraging recycling that was more participatory and did not involve top-down directives.

"For a long time, messages (geared) towards recycling have been largely instructional. As much as we have the blue (recycling) bins and environmental education, these do not seem effective in translating to results. Recycling outcomes have been stagnant. We want to change this by appealing to their emotions to do the right thing," he said.

Singapore's domestic recycling rate last year was about 21 per cent, the same as in 2016. The overall recycling rate was 61 per cent.

Last year, 7.7 million tonnes of solid waste was generated, a decrease of 110,000 tonnes from 2016. But the amount of waste recycled also fell by 50,000 tonnes to 4.72 million tonnes, largely due to lower amounts of wood waste, plastic and paper recycled, according to the National Environment Agency. Sixteen per cent of food waste was recycled last year, a slight increase from 2016.

Mr Heng, 30, who was a civil servant at the Monetary Authority of Singapore before he joined a social enterprise that helps people with disabilities last May, said he wants to protect the environment for future generations.

He was inspired by United Kingdom-based avid marathoner Rima Chai — widely known as the "tyre lady" who drags a tyre with her at races worldwide while also advocating recycling — and joined her team of "green ambassadors" at the Standard Chartered Singapore Marathon last December.

He then set up Green Nudge, which has since rallied volunteers and worked with organisers of mass cycling event OCBC Cycle and the annual Sundown Marathon, both of which took place last month.

The response has been positive and the team is striving to find creative and engaging ways to capture the attention of participants who may be worn out from the gruelling races, he said.

Ms Chai, who has played a part in getting some race organisers in Europe and the UK to do without plastics or cups, told TODAY: "Our resources are finite and we cannot continue with the old ways of placing trash in a bin and passing the responsibility to the Government. The buck must stop with the consumers."

The 48-year-old, who has championed the cause at over 50 marathons in the past 12 years, is an IT professional currently based in London.

Ms Natalie Ong, 30, a Green Nudge volunteer at the Sundown Marathon, said most runners were receptive to its initiatives, although they may have been "uncomfortable" when first approached. One of them said he would consider getting his own reusable container for future events, said Ms Ong, who is self-employed.

With growing awareness of the massive waste and plastics problem worldwide and 2018 designated Singapore's Year of Climate Action, ground-up environmental efforts have been gathering pace in recent months.

Last month, four non-profit groups – the Centre for a Responsible Future, People's Movement to Stop Haze, Plastic-Lite Singapore, and Zero Waste SG – launched a guide called Makan SG to encourage eateries here to adopt sustainable practices.

The guide offers pointers on using ingredients with a smaller environmental footprint, reduce the use of disposable plastics, and manage waste more effectively.

The groups are also working with Control Union, a certifying organisation to develop a Sustainable Restaurant Assessment and Ranking system by next year.

This month, Plastic-Lite Singapore also launched Singapore's first reusable-bag sharing initiative, called Bounce Bags, in collaboration with Nee Soon Town Council.