As a child growing up in Singapore, the government had frequent campaigns to keep the country clean. Our late prime minister Lee Kwan Yew took to the streets, broom in hand to highlight keeping the country clean. In Asian countries, it is typical to see people throwing rubbish out of their vehicle window, discarding rubbish on the side of the street. In Singapore it became illegal to litter and a fine-able offence.
Yet running events have been allowed to disregard this. Having spoken to the organiser who created the first Singapore Marathon, this was because they wanted to help runners focus solely on running. Now being somewhat sexist at times, I would have to add that in those days it was a man only sport! The Great Eastern Women’s 10K run, typically sees a clean safe run for all women as the women participants consciously place all their rubbish in the bins provided. We now have to undo years of runners throwing rubbish on the floor.
Having completed the Singapore Marathon four times previously, I had no more desire to come back to do this marathon. The sustainability piece of the marathon event was in the safe hands of Green Nudge. However my mother had to have an emergency stent placed into a major artery & was scheduled for a heart valve replacement. I had to return to Singapore.
The marathon organisers responded quickly to my imminent arrival and provided us a large booth at the exit point of the expo. “Great!” we thought, “We would be the reminder of what runners should do as they left the expo!”
Mission: To make as many runners aware of the reasons why they need to keep the course litter free.
Day 1: This expo was large, similar in size to the London marathon. This meant navigating a wonderland of vendors wanting to sell stuff, playing games, and giving away free stuff. Being at the exit point meant participants would be fatigued and were focused on that glowing exit sign as if it were the finishing banner of a running race. Our booth seemed invisible to the hoards that passed by and our voices were drowned out by the thumping music and general noise of the expo.
I needed to find a quieter space…..registration! On day 1, hoards of participants were entering simultaneously, forming a long queue to pick up their race pack. I started about 40 runners away from the front of the line and worked my way to the back:
“Fellow runners, I need your help to respect other runners who are behind you.
When you drop your gels, cups, banana skins on the course, the runner behind you can potentially trip or skid on what you have dropped. How many of you have seen a runner trip up or have a gel packet stuck to the bottom of their shoe? How many of you have had to run through rubbish?
Last year we picked up 4kg of runners rubbish over a 7km stretch after the cleaners had been through. Runners had thrown stuff into the drains, bushes, grass and on the beach. The collection was mostly gel packs.
Will you sign this pledge to put all your rubbish in the bin during the run to respect your fellow runners and keep the course safe and clean?”
Boom – 2 boards were signed. Who wants to run through rubbish or be part of the littering of the country and subsequently adding to the 8 million tonnes of plastic that enters the ocean a year?
Day 2: There were no initial queues and Li Seng (Green Nudge) had brought in a large canvas which we repurposed as a pledge board. Additionally I had now been banned from the registration area, so had to find other ways to get folk to look our way…
Runners who said they would be too exhausted to hold onto their rubbish until they saw a bin was countered with “I am pulling a tyre in the full marathon and I will hold onto to my rubbish until I can put it in a bin. I know what exhaustion is. Tell me that excuse again!”
More photos can be seen here: https://www.facebook.com/pg/MJ-Photography-1151250541686703/photos/?tab=album&album_id=1498444120300675
Day 3: I am tired from lack of sleep, my legs are tired from standing for the last 2 days but a plan with a buddy was waiting to be executed. At
09:30am we presented the pledge to the queue that had formed waiting for the doors to open. All agreed to a litter free run for everyone. Having been confined to my booth, other vendors agreed to place our boards at their booths to have runners pledge to put their rubbish in the bin during the run to keep our run safe and clean (thank you to Mule Bar and to Ace Adventures)
Bonus: our top national runner Soh Rui Yong pledged and agreed that all runners can put their rubbish in the bin or to put their gel packets in their pocket.
For other antics see here: https://www.instagram.com/p/BrE8CbmBIwk/
Day 4: By 2pm on Saturday, we had a pledge canvas and 4 mobile pledge boards fully signed by at least 4-5 thousand runners out of 50,000 runners
In summary, many runners admitted they had no idea about the impact of their rubbish as it is a “norm” to drop rubbish on the floor and agreed to be more conscious of placing their rubbish in the bin.
If you are a runner, please put your rubbish in the bin so it has zero impact on other runners and does not escape into our environment. Be a responsible runner and achieve a responsible PB.
At the end of the week, was it worth all the effort and tired legs? See the next blog post.
Thank you Natalie and MJ for your help.